The targeted killing of a well-respected imam and a brutal response from the insurgents have taken a toll on already fragile secret peace talks between the government and the exiled Patani Malay separatist leaders.
A scheduled November 28 meeting, supposed to be a follow up from the March 2012 meeting between a group of about 17 separatist leaders and Pheu Thai Party de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra had to be postponed.
Another blow to the Thai government was a strongly worded resolution from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) over the handling of the conflict in the deep South.
Leaders of the long-standing separatist movements said Thailand could not talk about peace, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the targeted killings of Abdullateh Todir - an imam of a community mosque in Tambon Patae, an extremely red-zone area in Yala's Yaha district, said a senior member of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C), an organisation that continued to boycott meetings with Thai authorities.
Abdullateh was shot dead on November 14 as he was driving to see his wife at a hospital in Yala district. An attempt on Abdullateh’s life last year ended in the death of his daughter, who took the bullet in her forehead as the imam dodged the gunfire just in time. One reading by a BRN-Coordinate operative is that while the military wanted Abdullateh alive – because they believed they could use him to talk to the separatist movement.
Exiled leaders also blamed pro-government death squads for the shooting death of Mahama Ma-ae, a Muslim teacher from the Thamvithya Mulniti Islamic School in Yala, on October 30.
A source in the police department said authorities searched Mahama’s house in Pattani’s Yarang district on several occasions but could find no evidence to convict him. But the police still suspected him of being part of the insurgency movement.
The killings of Abdullateh and Mahama went relatively unnoticed by the Thai media but the retaliation from the militants was swift and deadly.
Exiled sources in the separatist movement pointed to the motorcycle bomb in Yala on November 17 that killed one and injured more than 30, a blitz on the Raman Police Station on November 22, an attack on a train bogey with security officials on November 18, and the shooting death of a school director in Pattani’s Nong Chik on November 22 as to how the militants had retaliated.
The secret talks with the exiled leaders are expected to continue and the violence will go ahead to prevent the process from being a smooth one. The so-called peace talks are being spearheaded by Thawee Sodsong, head of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC).
Previously, Thawee was using Wadah politicians to do his leg- work to help pave the way for the March 2012 meeting. But the militants on the ground did not approve of the meeting and launched a devastating triple car-bomb attack in Yala, as well as an attack on a major hotel in Hat Yai.
Since then, Thawee has been approaching religious leaders, people with more credentials in the eyes of the separatists. Exiled leaders said that while the switch was wise, the situation was beyond the control of these religious leaders.