Sunday, April 21, 2013

Thai Leadership must get a grip on the southern 'peace process'

Who's in charge of the "peace process" in the deep South?

Nobody is quite sure who calls the shots on both sides of the talks, which ended after a second round of discussion without any concrete results.

Worse, violence has flared and government officials as well as innocent citizens in the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have fallen victim in the latest insurgent attacks.

Talking is naturally preferable to fighting. But the highly publicised "secret talks" so far have produced more questions than answers. Malaysia, which has served as an "honest broker", has given no clear reason for postponing the next meeting, which was due to be held on April 29, following the second round of talks on March 28 at an undisclosed venue in Kuala Lumpur

The separatist Barisn Nasional Coordinate (BRN) is "headed" by Hassan Toryib, described as the "real leader" of the insurgents by the chief of the Thai delegation, Lt General Paradon Pattanatabutr. But Hassan admitted that he couldn't reach out to all the fighting units, which have stepped up bomb attacks on senior Thai officials in recent weeks.

While doubts have been raised whether the BRN delegates are in real control of the separatist movement, the more critical question being asked is, Who in the Thai government is really running the show?

The Thai team is led by Paradon, who is secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC), a position previously assigned to coordinate strategic security issues among civilian, military, police and political officials. This time around, though, the NSC chief's role has been thrown into the spotlight and he is now seen as the prime mover in negotiations with the insurgents.

Who does he report to? Under normal circumstances, the NSC should be working closely under a deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs. According to the official structure, this, currently, is Chalerm Yoobamrung. But Chalerm has been trying his utmost to avoid being cast in that role. When he finally made a visit to Yala for the first time as deputy premier, Chalerm made no effort to probe into the progress (or lack thereof) of the negotiations on the ground. He was more interested in showing the press that he had finally, physically, made it down South and that no reporters should call him a coward from now on.

So, if Chalerm isn't in charge, is the interior minister responsible? Not really. Charubutr Ruangsuwan has not been active on the southern issue. In fact, when the deputy governor of Yala was killed in a bomb attack recently, he sent one of his deputy ministers to attend the funeral despite the uproar the incident raised - and the obvious indication that the "peace talks" had made the situation worse.

Shouldn't the Army's commander-in-chief be playing a direct role in the negotiations, then? General Prayuth Chan-ocha has publicly distanced himself from the "peace process". He isn't against it per se. Even military leaders have to admit that talking about peace if better than engaging in a prolonged war. But Prayuth made it clear from the outset that he isn't all that enthusiastic or optimistic about the outcome of the talks. He indicated from the beginning that the BRN leaders couldn't speak on behalf of the insurgents if they couldn't reduce the level of violence in the South.

That only leaves Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to answer all the questions related to the "peace process". She hasn't shown any indication that she is really in charge of the issue. Yingluck has said the increased violence and the "peace process" aren't related - a statement that is being challenged on a daily basis.

Unless the prime minister takes full charge of the "peace process", to put a stop to the haphazard way it is being handled, things could get much worse. Her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, may have helped initiate the talks from behind the scenes, but he isn't supposed to be running the country. Willy-nilly, Yingluck is. The Nation, Bangkok

1 comment:

  1. The strife in Muslim heavy areas like peninsular Malaysia closer to the border Thai side was troubled as far back as 1967 when I drove from Singapore to Penang Island via Ipoh Malaysia.

    I had wanted to also drive on up to Thailand but the Border was closed for some strife like this. Then the Australian Embassy KL warned me eve if it opened it was unsafe to take that trip. Rob Carter reports.