Thailand’s Deep South insurgents officially meets media first time

MARA Patani, the umbrella organization for the insurgency movement in the restive three southernmost provinces of Thailand -- Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, and four districts of Sonkhla -- has just had their first meeting with media. MARA Patani emphasized that the peace process must be on the national agenda, criticizing the junta for its vagueness to the peace process.
A Malaysian government official stated that the press meeting and conference were at MARA Patani (Majlis Syura Patani)’s request, with Malaysia as the organizer and sponsor of the event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Thursday. The press event consisted of two sessions. The morning session was a meet-and-greet with seven core members of MARA, where voice recordings, photos, and videos where prohibited. The afternoon session was an official statement release. 
MARA representatives present at the official press conference on Thursday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur
The seven MARA Patani representatives who attended the morning session were Awang Jabat, Ahmad Chuwo, and Sukri Haree from Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Ariee Muktar from Patani Liberation Organization (PULO), Abu Ah Gim Hassan from Pertubuhan Pembebasan Patani Bersatu (PULO-DSPP), Abu Hafez Al-Hakim from Barisan Islam Perbersasan Patani (BIPP) and Abu Yasin from Gerekan Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP). 
The meet-and-greet started with the MARA members and then the members of selected Thai and Malaysian media agencies introducing themselves. The MARA members also introduced their organization, with Awang Jabat as the chairman and Sukri Haree as the head of MARA delegates.
Awang Jabat stated to the press that the objective of this event was to inform the media correctly about MARA, and to believe that they have good intentions regarding peace for Patani. Awang asked for any media that were prejudiced against them to set aside their prejudices, and to present their news in a responsible and straightforward way.
Next, Abu Hafez conducted the presentation to introduce MARA. In the presentation and the accompanying documents for press release, the vision of the “Administration of Patani Darussalam” was described, with their mission being “To seek a just, comprehensive and sustainable political solution together” MARA’s function was described “As a consultative platform for all Patani liberation movements, CSOs/NGOs, local politicians, professionals and academicians who are legible.” 
“The objectives of the organization were outlined as follows. 
  • To promote unity and together shoulder the responsibility with the people of Patani for the right to self-determination
  • To maintain a conducive, progressive and continuous political struggle
  • To open space and opportunity for all Patani liberation movements, civil societies etc. to voice their opinions and suggestions and draw collective decision to determine the political direction at the negotiation table.
  • To open space for involvement of professionals and academicians in providing consultative opinions, arguments and evidences, in their respective fields, for the negotiating team at the negotiation table.
  • To gain the international community's’ confidence, assistance and support for the struggle of Patani.”
When asked what exactly means by “administration of Patani Darussalam,” Abu Hafez replied that as a MARA representative, the group preferred to use the term merdeka (sovereign), but the Thai government dislikes the use of this term. “Our ultimate goal is still sovereignty; it has not changed. However, we are seeing and considering other options in participating in the peace process and reaching our goal.” The issue of whether or not they got independence, said Abu Hafez, would be decided in negotiations.
The MARA representatives were also asked about whether their organization really stood for the wishes of the Patani people, since there are graffities and cloth banners expressing disapproval toward the peace talk. A Mara member replied that MARA is an open organization that does not limit itself to its current six organizations, but has plans to include citizen participation groups. Abu Hafez added that MARA will engage more citizen and media through activities and events, like today’s event, which is the first MARA event that allows participation from non-MARA outsiders. “We will include Buddhist Thai groups, women’s groups, religious groups, and other groups to engage with us.” This promise to inclusion is one reason why the group is requesting the Thai junta for immunity for its 15 delegates so that they can enter Patani to interact with the locals, listen to the people’s requests and demands, and therefore gain acceptance in the area. Abu Hafez even joked with reporters, saying that “We will send you the membership form [for MARA membership] so that you can join us.” Meanwhile, BRN representatives claimed during the afternoon session that they have about 9,000 on-ground fighters in Patani. 
When asked about the development of the unofficial talks, three of which have occurred, with the latest one on 25 August, Sukri Haree replied with MARA’s three proposals. First, raising the issue of Deep South peace talks to a level of national agenda, meaning the issue is endorsed by the parliament, second, granting immunity to 15 MARA delegates, and third, for MARA to be officially recognized. When asked about whether these suggestions have incited a response, Sukri replied that at the moment there has been no response from Thai authorities. Only when the junta accepts all three recommendations can negotiations and peace talks proceed in order to resolve important issues.
The representatives were also asked whether the BRN representatives at the meeting were genuine BRN members. The three BRN members refused to answer, citing the organization’s secret underground operations. However, they did say that sending negotiators was definitely part of BRN’s operations.
A reporter also asked if there were any MARA members who did not want to open their organization for discussion and communication with the Thai state. Awang Jabat replied that of course there were some members who did not completely agree or support this action, but from the Thai side and within the organization. However, MARA would put the citizens of Patani first, over these disagreements about supporting discussions.
The MARA representatives were also asked why MARA wanted the insurgency and its peace talks to be held at national importance. Abu Hafez replied that their three recommendations were mandatory because the peace process needs to move forward after a change in government, with the House of Representatives supporting it. During the Yingluck administration, the peace process moved forward to an extent, but after the junta, negotiations had to be restarted. This junta government does not accept the past negotiations as legitimate, saying that the 1 December 2014 meeting between Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha and the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak inaugrated the second dialogue (Dialogue 2). The Thai state cited Prayuth’s Order No. 230, which talked about in importance of the peace process, but it was still not a guarantee that in the next government, these orders would be carried out. “I plead for the media to rush the peace process to be put at a level of national importance. We are not doing this for us but for peace in Patani,” continued Abu Hafez. “Even flooding became a national issue. Prayuth has the Section 44 [of the Interim Constitution] in the palm of his hand. If he wanted to do anything, he can.”
When asked how important it was that MARA be recognized, Abu Hafez replied that at this point in time, the Thai junta was still calling MARA the “Party B” meaning the group of people who hold views differing from the state’s. MARA wants the state to specify Party B as MARA in all related documents. “As of now, Prayuth is still unwilling to call us by our name.”
Then, MARA representatives were asked if it would be an obstruction to future peace processes if these three recommendations were not met by the state. Abu Hafez replied that MARA believed that if these recommendations were not fulfilled, then the negotiations would continue in their unofficial manner. There would be talks, but not ones concerning any important issues.
MARA was also asked about the Thai junta’s three recommendations, just revealed on 25 August 2015: 1) creating a safe space, 2) developing the quality of life, and 3) accessibility for all sides in the peace process. Abu Hafez replied that MARA has taken them into consideration, but cannot offer a reply at the moment because the state has to guarantee MARA’s three demands first so that negotiations become official and decisions can be made.
When asked about MARA’s timeframe regarding the Thai state’s reply to them, Abu Hafez said, “The sooner, the better.” He also said that as long as there was no response, MARA would have difficulty in engaging with locals in the Deep South, and that they would have to request that people from Patani travel to meet MARA in Malaysia instead . 
Abu Hafez also said that during the latest round of meeting with the Thai delegates, the Malaysian government drew up multiple pages of a sample Terms of Reference (TOR). Both parties should study this document in order to be able to adjust it to their needs.
A media representative asked whether MARA thinks the junta is taking these peace talks seriously. Abu Hafez stated, “It’s hard to measure sincerity, but easy to measure seriousness. For example, we can see that they are not so serious about the national agenda.” Then, MARA was asked about whether they have concretely showed their sincerity to the peace process. The BRN representative replied that their lessening of violence during Ramadan was an evidence of how sincere they were about peace talks. 
When asked whether the PULO-P4 group was still part of MARA, Abu Hafez replied that PULO-P4 was one of the founding groups of MARA, but later disagreed with the rest of the group on a key issue, so PULO-P4 resigned. Later, MARA amended the issue, and communicated this to PULO-P4, although they have not replied about whether the group be returning to MARA or not.
A reporter also asked the BRN if the report which says BRN has communicated to the Thai junta that they were not involved in the Ratchaprasong bombing on 17 August was true. BRN declined to comment. 
MARA were also asked if there would be future press meeting like this one. Abu Hafez said that the junta’s delegates, led by Gen Aksara, were not media-friendly, unlike the negotiation team led by Pol Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanathabutr. Gen Aksara has shown concern about this press event and whether MARA will communicate to the media in an overstepping way and causing misunderstandings, requesting instead that MARA hold a joint press conference with the Thai state. Abu Hafez said that a joint conference was possible only after the peace process has become an official one.
BRN were asked about their policies in using violence against civilians. Sukri Haree replied that BRN does not have policies on conducting violence against civilians, but will use violence only towards security officials. Nevertheless, any civilian collateral damage is unintentional and purely coincidental. 
MARA also emphasized the importance of the media in portraying the Deep South conflict. Abu Akrim Bin Hasan said, “If the media is reporting positively about the peace process, the peace process will continue. If they report negatively, the process will fail.”
“We want the citizens of Patani to join with us in finding a solution in the peace process,” said Abu Hafez in the afternoon session of the press release.
Negotiations between the Thai state and armed insurgency movement have been proceeding for more than a decade, although in secret. Analysts say that the Thai state has never been sincere nor serious about negotiations, only viewing them as opportunities to identify core members of the insurgent groups. The first open negotiations happened during Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration in 2013 in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian government acted as a facilitator. However, these negotiations were few, and ended completely after the Yingluck administration was overthrown. The military coup in May 2014 that installed a junta led by Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha has started peace talks again, with the first one in early June 2015. 
The proclamation of MARA Patani
Int the name of Allah the most merciful the most compassionate
1 In the name of the struggle of the people of Patani, it is hereby proclaimed the formation of the Majlis Syura Patani (Patani Consultative Council-PCC), also known as MARA Patani. This council has been formed based on fraternal bond and cooperative spirit of the Patani fighters groups that have agreed to come under the umbrella organization of MARA Patani. The agreement was sealed by the Declaration dated March 15, 2015/ 24 JamadilAwal 1436 H. 
2 The Patani fighters groups also recognize the roles of other movements and parties that mutually demand for the fight to self-determination of Patani people. Hence, MARA Patani also welcomes the participation and the roles of other movements and parties in this struggle. The existence of MARA Patani is to ensure that all the rights and interests of the people of Patani are heard, considered, discussed and fought for, consistently, systematically and concretely, by the will of Allah. 
3 MARA Patani will maintain the continuation of the struggle of Patani people versus the Thai government including through the Patani Peace Dialogue Process (Join-Working-Group Peace Dialogue Process -- JWD-PDP) base on the General Consensus dated Feb 28, 2013, where Malaysia was mutually agreed to be the facilitator. Therefore, MARA Patani expresses its willingness to play a significant role in the process to achieve a just, comprehensive and sustainable solution in Patani. 
Translated into English by Asaree Thaitrakulpanich
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