Govt action in the South must speak louder than words

opinion August 24, 2014 01:00

By The Nation

Learning from peace initiatives in other countries to deal with conflicts is one step in the right direction

Maj-General Nakrob Bunbuathong, deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command’s operation centre 5, has shed some light on what Prime Minister-elect General Prayuth Chan-ocha has in mind to deal with the conflict in the southernmost provinces. But the verdict is still out as to what this all means in real terms.
Nakrob told a recent seminar at the Prince of Songkla University in Pattani that peace talks are in the process of being revamped and for the time being the Thai side is brainstorming various models, lessons learned from abroad, as well as past practices. It will incorporate all these ideas into one single package before going to the table for talks with the separatist leaders. 
He pointed to conflicts in Mindanao, Aceh and Northern Ireland as possible examples from which lessons could be drawn, but did not go into details about which aspects of those conflicts would serve as lessons. 
Given the relative success of the peace process in these other countries, it is somewhat refreshing to hear that some of the positive aspects of these peace initiatives could be taken up.
Nakrob said the plan would take up the Malaysia-facilitated peace process that was launched on February 28, 2013. Nakrob criticised the initiative, saying it was carried out without a defined roadmap, and thus spurring the “spitting contest” through YouTube and other social media outlets. 
The peace initiative will be renamed “Talk for santhisuk”, instead of “Talk for santhipap”. The latter, he said, implied that a third party, particularly a foreign country, would be involved in the process.
The term stated in the memorandum of understanding signed on February 28, 2013 would be reviewed but the general premises would remain, he said. 
Sounds like a minor task? Not really, according to various sources in the Thai military who said the hardest part may be how to tell Malaysia that their role as “facilitator” will not be as prominent as before. 
The problem with the peace talks launched on February 28, 2013 was that it was hastily pushed through without proper endorsement by other stakeholders, namely the military, who covertly tried to discredit the process, and the insurgents on the ground, whose campaign of violence continued unabated. 
And so it was easy for the Army to criticise it. But this time, being in the driver’s seat, the Army is finding out that it is impossible to please all the people all the time.
Learning from others is a good start. But haven’t we heard this before from previous administrations?
Nakrob’s statement suggests the current government will put the South on the national agenda. But those are words. Only actions will count. Considering the fact 
that more than 6,000 people have been killed from this ongoing insurgency, the idea of making the conflict a national priority should have been done a long time ago.
But it’s never too late to do something. Because the more the delay, the more people who will get killed. 
Nakrob also took a jab at local politicians, asking what they had been doing and if anyone of them had even condemned the violence in their respective region. 
One glaring fact that Nakrob overlooked is the fact that much of the violence was inflicted by the security personnel themselves. The culture of impunity among these security officials is a problem and continues to be an obstacle to peace and the peace process.