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Govt needs to show it really wants PEACE in the South

Signs do not look good before the re-start of peace talk

It is somewhat strange for the chief negotiator for Thailand's peace talks with the Patani Malay separatists, known as MARA Patani, to be revealing what is on the table before securing a buy-in and understanding with the other side. 

Through his spokesperson, retired General Aksara Kerdpol revealed the idea of a "safety zone" being drafted for discussion with the separatist groups.

Colonel Banphot Phunphien, spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), quoted Aksara as saying the delineation of a safety zone was among three proposals that the Thai team would try to present at the dialogue process.

The last time talk of putting two districts in a "safety zone" became news - a few weeks ago - a member of the MARA Patani was forced to go public and dismiss the idea, saying it was not something they backed. 

"Safety zone" is another term used in reference to areas where a ceasefire is to be implemented.

Currently, the two sides are operating under an official "pre-talk" mode where confidence-building measures are explored.

Aksara's notion of a "safety zone" reads like something out of a school textbook. Needless to say, reality on the ground speaks differently.

The appointment of a hawkish commander for the Fourth Army, for example, goes against the government's stated attempt to create an atmosphere conducive to peace and talks.

Moreover, the recent decision to seize the property of a well-known traditional Islamic boarding school in Pattani - the Jihad Withaya - also sent a wrong message to people of the region and separatist groups who the government often referred to as "people who think differently" from the state.

And let's not forget the culture of impunity or questionable death of suspects while in detention.

If the state can seize property on grounds that it is allegedly being used to promote separatist tendency or indoctrination, then nowhere is safe - not the teashops in remote villages or the community football team - as sep

aratism has long been very much part of the region's historical narrative.

Banphot said it was hoped that successful implementation of a "safety zone" could first reduce the number of violent incidents in the designated area and then humanitarian law would be applied.

Does that mean humanitarian principle can only be applied in areas were violence has ended? Why wait? State security agencies should be making humanitarian principles their utmost priority, especially in such conflict in which the name of the game is to win hearts and minds of the local residents.

Sadly, one only has to ask government's troops on the ground whether they know what the rules of engagement are. Most likely, one will get a blank stare. Shoot to kill would probably be a common answer. After all, the Emergency Law functions very much like a licence to do just that.

In fact, not one official working in the region has been convicted for any wrong doing over this past 12 years in spite of obvious evidence linking them to crimes.

When the government of
 Yingluck Shinawatra was overseeing the peace process, her point man on the ground for the process - Thawee Sodsong - was not able to end the practice of targeted killings. 

Needless to say, it spoiled the atmosphere that was supposed to be conducive for peace.

Today, with the army in full control, not only have violations continued unabated, but the atmosphere is still years away from being conducive for peace talks.

And to show that they are not exactly in a peace-talking mode, at least not in an environment full of intimidation, insurgents this past week burnt down a public school in Pattani's Thung Yang Daeng district. This happened at the same school they burnt down in late 2014 to send a stern warning over the alleged torture of young men in the area.

No doubt about it, there is blood on the hands of both sides, not to mention violations of humanitarian principles. If we can't graduate and move beyond beyond this situation on the ground, we have little chance of success at any formal peace process.

Thanks: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Govt-needs-to-show-it-really-wants-PEACE-in-the-So-30276034.html


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