Two restive regions in Southeast Asian, the Philippines’ Mindanao and Southern Thailand, are once again in the news.
Mindanao’s prospects for peace seem to be stalled for the moment. Manila has asked to extend, for a second time, the deadline to 15 November 2006 for peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf). The Milf quoted Filipino chief negotiator Silvestre Afable as saying: 'In his letter, (Afable) cited the need for their draft to be presented to the President and the Cabinet to seek their 'full consensus' on their 'emerging position.'
Negotiations have stalled over differences in the size and wealth of a proposed homeland for about 3 million Muslims in that region. Milf wants to add 1000 additional villages to an existing five-province Muslim autonomous region
Nevertheless, President Arroyo affirmed her continued support for the peace talks. "It's going to be about the MILF peace process. It's a very difficult issue and it requires a steady hand in negotiation," Mrs. Arroyo said while in Guilin during the ASEAN-China meeting.
But she still hopes that peace will be the final outcome. "Prime Minister Badawi and I are committed to the peace process, so I am taking a very personal role to help put the talks forward and I am sure that, with the help of Malaysia, we will be able to achieve lasting peace," she said.
But Malaysia was not so patient. Its Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, has expressed concern over the delay and has asked for a bilateral meeting with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The bilateral meeting with Badawi and other members of his government is will be held at the Li Yuan Hotel in Nanning, China.
Things are not as rosy in Southern Thailand. Criminal intimidation continues in that region. Extremists in the South have recently murdered and beheaded a Burmese labourer in front of his daughter. The gunmen rigged the severed head with a bomb 20 km away from the murder site. In another recent attack, a homemade bomb exploded near a market in the Thanto district of Yala province, injuring a police officer.
However, peace prospects may have just been boosted because the military-backed coup leaders in Thailand have revived a civilian mediation agency to handle relations with the troubled province. This is a different tactic from deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin who preferred a more hardline stance against the Muslim rebels and downplayed the importance of mediation. Thaksin had previously shut down this mediation agency in 2001.
As a move towards conciliation and also to shore up support for the newly-installed military-backed government, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and the coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin plans to tour the restive southern provinces. They have also backed off from Thaksin’s policies of sending in the military to quash rebellions or to impose emergency laws. The possibility of Malaysia acting as mediator in this conflict also cannot be discounted.
Palace: Malaysia intervention could end MILF talks impasse (Philippines Inquirer, 1 November 2006)
Manila misses peace deadline with Muslim rebels (The Straits Times, 31 October 2006)
Malaysia impatient on peace in Mindanao (Manila Standard, 30 October 2006)
Southern insurgents behead labourer (Bangkok Post, 22 October 2006)