The protracted violence in the South has not gone unnoticed, even if the predicament of the Southern inhabitants seems to have been ignored by politicians.
This was why the Thai media had constantly insisted during the political standstill earlier this year that the new government needed to bring about national reconciliation. When the coup occurred, journalists stressed that the new administration urgently needed to address the issue. It has widely been hoped that with Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin in charge, the Southern crisis will be on its way to recovery.
Gen. Sonthi has often indicated an interest in holding talks with the Muslim insurgents. He made it clear that there would not be a negotiation but a “talk to find solutions”. It is believed that the Thai authorities will hold talks with two insurgent groups in early November.
Although no specific insurgent entities have been announced, it is likely that “one of the leading separatist movements, the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO)” will be present, as will Bersatu. PULO’s foreign affairs chief Kasturi Mahkota stated that “PULO has not been officially contacted by the Thai government for any dialogue but Pulo welcomes the opportunity to exchange views” as long as the Thai government was sincere and “immunity must be fully granted to the movements' delegation”. He also said that PULO was “willing to settle for something less than full independence for the deep South”, the Nation reported.
An unnamed Thai official was noted as saying that “Negotiations are expected to take place in… a neutral country like Singapore”.
Former Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamed seems to have jumped onto the reconciliation bandwagon and unilaterally organized his own peace talks between military officials and rebel leaders in Langkawi last week. However, all parties involved have remarked that his initiative is rather unwelcome.
According to the Nation, “both senior Thai security official and a prominent exiled leader from the Malay-speaking South were quick to downplay the significance of the Langkawi sessions; [saying] Mahathir was not in a position to push the peace process towards any meaningful end because he is no longer a government representative”. A rebel source went so far as to say, “There was nothing special about the meetings. Mahathir was just acting in his capacity as a private person, although it was difficult for anybody to decline an invitation.”
Mahathir’s actions have embarrassed his country. Malaysia Defence Minister and DPM Najib Razak has declared that “Mahathir made the effort in his capacity as leader of a non-governmental organisation (NGO)”. He stressed that “as for the government, we cannot interfere in the affairs of a neighbor unless expressly invited to help out”.
The Star also reported DPM Najib Razak Najib as saying that “he felt that the new Thai administration was more amiable to resolving the problems in Southern Thailand and that a peace treaty could soon be signed to end the violence and sufferings of the Muslim community”.
Malaysia 'not involved in peace efforts' (Bangkok Post, 8 October 2006)
Najib: We won’t interfere (Star, 8 October 2006)
DPM: Peace talks on Southern Thailand was private initiative (Star, 7 October 2006)
Mahathir set up peace talks (Nation, 6 October 2006)