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On the 27th of June, Prachatai in cooperation with the Deep South Watch Organization, the Deep South Photojournalism Network and the Deep South Civil Societies Network launched a public forum and photo exhibition regarding the ongoing conflict in the Deep South at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club Thailand. As the general election is taking place this Sunday, the organizations wished to take the opportunity to underline this political turning point by expressing the importance of photography as an input for peace dialogue and providing a forum for discussion on government policies regarding the conflict and how to structure the peace process in the Deep South, characterized by continuous violence. 

The first session, ‘Politics in Pictures of the Deep South’, emphasized photojournalism as being an extremely important communication channel reminding the government and people outside the area of the conflict and the many innocent lives it affects every day. The session was commenced by the official opening of the book ‘In Between; Restive South’, published by the Deep South Watch Organization. Three of the photographers featured in the book were invited to speak about their own experiences from working in the Deep South. Nakharin Chinnawornkomol, a photojournalist from Yala working for The Nation and EPA has been taking pictures of various incidents in the area for many years. He emphasizes that there is little space in the mainstream media for positive stories; “only violence sells”.

On the other hand, for Bintang Photo group in Pattani, there are no set guidelines. Creator of Bintang Photo, Mumadsoray Deng, activist and freelance photographer, explains that photos are not only powerful tools to convey incidents in the area but are also equally important used to picture a brighter side of local life in order to overcome biases many people have of the Deep South. Similarly, another freelance photographer from Pattani, Fuaad Waesamae working for the Seed Group, captures the local way of life in Pattani to show the outside world the pictures that the mainstream media does not.

Taking part in the discussion was also Papan Raksrithong, columnist and former Prachatai journalist. He reflected over the different styles of taking pictures and what it tells us. Gradually, photography has gone from being an elite class amusement to an important tool for local as well as global human rights advocacy, increasingly available throughout society and should be encouraged in the struggle towards a peaceful south.

The second session ‘Deep South in Transition: After the Election Scenario’ tightly focused on the development of new government policies regarding the Deep South. In order to create such new policies and strategies, the three major factors that were discussed were justice, decentralization and peace dialogues.

Without justice, continuous violence is bound to characterize the lives of the people in the Deep South. Anukul Awaeputeh, from the Committee of Muslim Attorney Center described justice as an “avenue of peace”, a vital component needed to form any kind of foundation for an eventual peaceful settlement. Without neither access to justice nor equality before the law, the rule of law is undermined and “if justice is not given, we cannot reach peace”. Mr. Awaeputeh stressed that good administration must manage to protect justice and the rule of law. Until that is fully guaranteed by a future government, the peace process is severely delayed and violence continues.

Mr. Awaeputeh stressed the importance that justice must not be separated but read in parallel with decentralization. Cherished by some and despised by others, decentralization would bring administration to a local level, enabling more understanding for regional ethnicity, religion and cultural identity, factors which those in power today tend to overlook. Leading the talk on decentralization was Mathus Anuvatudom from the Office of Peace and Governance at King Prajadhipok’s Institute. The Office has conducted extensive research where different groups have been heard in order to see what the locals want. One point that came out of this research was the desire for political justice and for the highest leader to be of local origin. There was also a wish to balance Thai and Malay in the education system.

A solution that has been proposed is a special local administration model in the south, shaped by the civil society. Some political parties such as the Democrats support the centralized model and having a different view today is dangerous. Mr. Anuvatudom, supports decentralization as a possible solution, however adds that it is not a solution per se, but a good way to stop the problem from escalating; “We have to dream, but the dream must be based on reality”. While the people against decentralization argue that it will destroy the unity of the Kingdom and in that way equate it with a separatist approach. However, Mr Anuvatudom concludes the opposite, this form of local administration will decrease the desire for complete independence and constitutes a compromise allowing for regional particularities without disrupting the power of the state.

The final topic that was discussed was the need for peace dialogue. According to Assistant Professor Doctor SrisompobJitpiromsri, Director of the Deep South Watch, the State and separatist movements must run a comprehensive dialogue in order to reach some kind of agreement. It requires a high degree of open-mindedness from both parties and should involve active negotiations and eventually lead to an agreement to stop using violence. Conflict management is very complex and at any level, the process might fall apart. The process in itself is also very complex in structure since not only the State and separatist movements must take part in the dialogue but NGOs, civil society, community groups and locals are all parties in the multi-leveled peace dialogue of the Deep South and must actively participate in the process in order to reach the desired result of finally bringing an end to the violence that often has been called never-ending.

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