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Insurgents know that Bangkok isn't serious about peace: Wan Kadir

Wan Kadir Che Man, 72, the former leader of the now defunct Bersatu, didn't mince words when he lashed successive Thai governments for their "stupid" and "insincere" actions in three decades of failed peace initiatives in the deep South.

Speaking at a packed seminar at the Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani, the ageing academic, who this year was permitted to return to Thailand after more than 50 years in exile for his involvement with separatist movements, said the failure to generate a meaningful peace process was down to Bangkok's choice of facilitators/ mediators and go-betweens whose main interest was in "exploiting" talks for personal and political gain. Meanwhile, Thai officials who have taken part in three decades of negotiations have been more concerned with enhancing their professional rank than bringing peace.

The peace initiative launched on February 28 in Kuala Lumpur between the Thai National Security Council and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) is the latest example of Bangkok's lack of sincerity, said Wan Kadir, with separatist leaders Bangkok has brought to the table having no control over insurgents active in the three southernmost provinces.

The so-called BRN cadres at the talks appear to have been handpicked by local Malay Muslim politicians and leaders allied with the Pheu Thai Party.

Wan Kadir said it was difficult for the real leaders of various separatist groups to take the Thai government seriously and that many came "just for the delicious tom yam soup".

In other words, if the peace process is credible and coherent - and if the combatants and their political leaders are prepared - then the separatist movements will produce viable representatives.

But instead of rethinking the whole approach to peace and its negotiations, Thai authorities continue to go to the same "facilitators, mediators and go-betweens, some of whom have little understanding of the region's problems, and whose sincerity is often questionable".

"How can we expect some 'white-eyed' [coward] farang or some dato [Malay local ruler] to resolve our problems? The past 20 years have shown that this same old approach does not work. Are we that stupid not to see it, or are we just pretending not to see it?"

He was making obvious reference to prominent Malaysian figures involved in various peace initiatives, and Western organisations wanting to mediate the conflict in southern Thailand.

However, Wan Kadir said he greatly appreciate the moral support of various Western governments, including the United States, Germany and Sweden, suggesting that their participation as mediators or facilitators could add legitimacy to a peace initiative.

He said that longstanding separatist movements appreciated Western countries for seeing the deep South's problem as a "conflict" as opposed to "terrorism", and added that these respective governments treated the exiled Patani Malay separatist leaders in a dignified manner. "I was a refugee in Sweden but they issued me a passport so I could travel and take part in negotiations in Switzerland."

The troubles in Thailand's Malay-speaking provinces were "unique" and thus not resolvable by textbook negotiating tactics, he said, adding that he was impressed with academics who are trying to understand the dynamics of the conflict.

He lashed out at special security laws used in the deep South and added that such a "double standard" was applied only because the Thai state sees the Malays of Patani as "colonial subjects".

He also urged the Malay Muslims in the South to come to terms with their status as Thai citizens and fight for their rights and dignity through peaceful means. However, he added that the people of the region hold the right to chart their own destiny.

Development and education in Thailand's southernmost provinces have been neglected by the state, he said, despite the fact that the region has tremendous human and natural resources.

He noted that the Patani region was once the cradle of Islamic education in Southeast Asia and saw no reason why that glorious status could not be revived.

He said many people in the region were multilingual, speaking Malay, Thai, English and Arabic, and that quite a few - especially those who have lived in exile - spoke German and Swedish.

He urged local Malay Muslims leaders to take advantage of the existing political forums to push for policy change at the national level.

He said that since the current wave of insurgency began in 2004, the Thai state had consistently used military means to address the conflict, but it had continued unabated with no end in sight.

While Thai officials blame Malay Muslim militants for virtually all the violence, he suggested they should also examine their own role in provoking clashes. "Fighting back is natural for humans," he noted.

Bersatu, the umbrella group for longstanding separatist groups Wan Kadir once led, was strictly political with no armed wing attached. During his years in exile, Wan Kadir also helped set up the Barisan Islam Pembangunan Pattani (BIPP).

Though there have been reports that Thai authorities are trying to woo the BIPP to the negotiating table, the former separatist leader said he was not aware of any approach.

The ageing academic tried to return from exile in mid-2004 to work with the Thai state to help resolve the conflict, but the then government of Thaksin Shinawatra gave him the cold shoulder.

Don Pathan is a consultant based in Yala and a member of the Patani Forum

(www.pataniforum.com).


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