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Voice outside the fence: 1 year of peace dialogue - where are we?

Note: Abu Hafez Al-Hakim is a vocal member of MARA Patani, a peace dialogue panel comprising several Muslim Malay groups which struggle for the right to self determination of people in Thailand's restive Deep South, so-called Patani. This article reflects his personal view, not the official view of MARA Patani. Watch Abu Hafez interview with Prachatai here

Abu Hafez Al-Hakim


1 December 2015 marks one year of Patani/Southern Thailand peace dialogue process. We might call it dialogue 2.  In an official visit to Kuala Lumpur, the Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha met his counterpart Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak of Malaysia on 1 December 2014.  Both agreed  to resume the peace process that was suspended towards  the end of 2013 due to political turmoil  in Bangkok. The peace process that was initiated during the Phua Thai party rule under the then Premier Ying Luck Shinawatra signed on 28 February 2013 could be considered as dialogue1. It was the first formal peace dialogue process between the government of Thailand and the Patani fighters then represented by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani- BRN.
The Thai government had earlier issued the Prime Minister's order of 230/2014 dated 26 November 2014 that outlined the formation of  mechanism for Peace dialogue process at three levels. The first was at the policy level under the Steering Committee for Peace Dialogue, chaired personally by the Prime Minister. The second, The Peace Dialogue Panel headed by Gen. Aksara Kerdpol, and  third The Area-based Inter-agency Coordination Working Group under the jurisdiction of Forth Regional Army.
Meanwhile an umbrella organisation comprising of six Patani movements was formed by the name of MAJLIS SYURA PATANI-MARA Patani ( Patani Consultative Council-PCC ) on 15 March 2015. It was initiated by a BRN Action group  as MAJLIS AMANAH RAKYAT PATANI on 25 October  2014. In a conference held on 5 June 2015 attended by representatives of the six movements, the formation of Mara Patani  was endorsed.
It is therefore understood that the peace dialogue process  2 is between the Thai dialogue panel ( Party A) and Mara Patani  dialogue panel ( Party B), while Malaysia maintains  its role as the facilitator.
The initial meeting of both sides was on 8 April 2015 in Kuala Lumpur. It was regarded as the first informal secret meeting. Gen. Aksara came with two aids , a senior officer from the Thai National Security Council and a general from the army. MARA Patani was represented by Mr.Awang Jabat , the Chairman and six individuals from organisations that formed Mara Patani .
There was no specific agenda for the meeting other than self-introduction and the commitment of both parties to resume the peace dialogue process . Gen.Aksara emphasized that he was appointed by the Prime Minister and there is no other dialogue channel except for his team. MARA Patani's Chairman informed the Thai delegates of the formation of MARA Patani  that will participate in the peace process.
In the second meeting on 8 June 2015 both parties including the facilitator, were present full team. MARA  Patani(Party B) was headed by Ustaz Muhamad Shukri Hari. Gen. Aksara headed the Thai team while Dato Seri Zamzamin Hashim headed the facilitator's secretariat. In that short meeting Gen.Aksra informed that he not only represented his government but also all the people in the Deep South to talk to the Patani representatives. He proposed Party B to  mutually agree on safety zones be established for the coming month of Ramadhan.
Party B questioned Gen.Aksara's claim that he represented the people in the Deep South if  that also included the Patani Malays who have long supported our struggle, and therefore who the fighters represent at the dialogue table ? There was no concrete response from Party A.
Concerning the proposed safety zones during Ramadhan Party B rejected the bid for two reasons : first there  was a short of time ( 10 days to Ramadhan) and second, the more important one ,the dialogue process is still informal. Party B however will seriously consider the proposal without any obligation.
At the end of the meeting both sides concluded that the recommencement of the process(dialogue 2) would be on 1 December 2014 and to be based on the spirit of the earlier process sealed on 28 February 2013. This current process is still at confidence building stage and all the meetings at this phase are considered as "informal meetings".
The third meeting was referred to as " Second informal meeting" ,held on 25 August 2105, also attended full-team by all parties. As requested,  party B made  a detailed slide presentation about MARA Patani ( see : ) followed by a related document passed to head of party A dialogue panel through the facilitator.
Party A head dialogue panel expressed his thank to party B for working together rendering  the last Ramadhan  having  the lowest rate of violence compared to the previous ones, despite of the surge of incidences towards its end. He also suggested that a joint media-statement be made to formalise the dialogue process. Party B turned down  the idea and put forward instead three proposals as follows :
1. The Thai government acknowledges MARA Patani as party B in the peace dialogue ( no longer as "people who have different opinion from the state"),
2. The peace dialogue process is made Thailand's national agenda to ensure continuity of the process in the event of change of government, and
3. Members of MARA Patani  peace dialogue panel be provided immunity to facilitate the passage including into Thailand.
Gen. Aksara's team was requested to consider in detail and provide  a response later. Party A also proposed three issues :
1. To  identify the suitable areas of urgent priority for development and upgrade the quality of life for people in the Southern provinces of Thailand,
2.To mutually determine "safety zones" in the Southern provinces  of Thailand, and
3. To ensure equal access to legal/judiciary process for all.
As far as party B is concerned the above three proposals from party A are fine and relevant. In fact those are the issues, among others, that will be brought to the table. However as long as the process is informal and at the confidence building stage, whatever issues could not be discussed, agreed upon or implemented without formality. Party A was urged to show sincerity and commitment in addressing the three proposals from party B so that the process can be formalised.
At the end of the meeting both parties were given a draft of Terms of Reference - ToR proposed by Malaysia as the facilitator. Parties A and B are required to study, amend, delete or add on , any sections according to their  respective points of view . The discussion on ToR will be fixed at a later date.
On the morning of 27 August 2015 some Thai media representatives met with the MARA Patani members at a round table discussion. In the afternoon MARA Patani held a press conference for international media including those from Malaysia and Thailand. Both media events were unprecedented  and received wide coverage locally and worldwide including the social media. MARA Patani's leadership once again  emphasised that its participation in the peace dialogue process  aims for a conflict resolution that is just, comprehensive and sustainable towards self-determination for its people.
In early October 2015 party B received a response from party A through the facilitator. The letter signed by party A panel chief outlined the detail clarification for the three proposals of party B. Party A seemed to "manipulate" its three proposals to be incorporated into party B's proposals, as though they are same and related, as follows :
1. The acknowledgement of MARA Patani is tied to people's security and the reduction of violence,
2. The national agenda issue is tied to the urgent priority for development and upgrade the quality of life for people, and
3. Immunity for members of party B panel is tied to equal access to alternative legal/judicial procedures.
Since the clarification was vague and not up to our expectation , party B chose not to respond but will request for further explanation in future meetings. We understand that at this juncture party A still refuses to acknowledge MARA Patani as party B, the national agenda issue is still unclear and immunity for MARA Patani delegation is uncertain.
The last meeting was on 11 November 2015 attended by half of panel members from both parties. Its purpose was to consider party A's  request to form join-secretariat ( parties A and B) with the facilitator to discuss further technical issues. The request was declined by party B towards the end of the meeting on the ground that  the process is still informal. However all parties agreed to have a technical meeting on the following day by the formation of a technical team from each side to discuss the ToR proposed by Malaysia earlier.
 On 12 November 2015 the two technical teams discussed the ToR. Since party A did not forward its ToR  proposal,  only that of party B was being discussed. There were several disagreement and differences in views from both sides pertaining to the title and the contents of the document. To avoid prolonged argument and discussion party A was allowed  to  express  their views and made whatever changes, additions or cross out any section deemed necessary. Party B will study the counter proposal later on. Both parties agree to resume the technical meeting to discuss the ToR at a later date.
Regarding the Thai media reports by ISRANEWS on 19 November 2015, MORNING NEWS on 20 November 2015 and KOM-CHAD-LEUK on 22 November 2015, that the technical meeting had agreed to establish safety zones in two districts of Bacho and Cho-Ai-Rong in Narathiwat, we are here to clarify that the reports were false and  groundless. The issue was never touched during those two-day meetings. MARA Patani had issued a disclaimer through several Thai mainstream  media( see : The objective was not to create false hope amongst the people that peace is near at hand.
Of late there were statements made by the military spokesman pointing out that their priority in the peace process is to reduce violence allegedly perpetrated by the Patani fighters. It is a widely known and well-documented facts that violence and atrocities were also from the state/army and as usual the culprits were never persecuted.
MARA Patani reiterates  its commitment to strive for conflict resolution through peace dialogue process. We urge the Thai government  to be sincere and not finding excuses through manipulative measures to divert the focus away from core issues and the root causes of the conflict in the Deep South.
It is prudent that the Thais should change its attitude by acknowledging MARA Patani as party B in this process rather than calling it " people with different opinions from the state". If this is taken lightly it is not impossible that MARA Patani will aslo refer to party A  as " representatives appointed by illegal junta". They would not like it either.
The Patani peace process is a lengthy  one. One of the most  important requirements for true peace is justice which is considered the utmost responsibility of the state. It must not only be executed but also be seen and felt being executed by the oppressed people whose rights have been neglected. The three suppressive draconian laws are still in place today : The security law, the emergency decree and the martial law.  The most recent  criticism by the Amnesty International concerning the bad record of the Thai junta  in terms of  justice and human rights should be dealt with seriously.
Without JUSTICE there can be no PEACE.
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim - from outside the fence of Patani
1 December 2015/ 19 Safar 1437 H
The article is first published on Deep South Watch. 


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