Interview: What is being discussed by OIC, Patani independence group in KL?

Prachatai talked to Romadon Panjor, a civil society worker in Thailand’s Deep South who went to participate in the discussions between the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Patani independence group MARA Patani in Kuala Lumpur. Romadon reveals how the discussions went, the OIC’s direction, and how the continuing peace process will probably proceed. 
 
Last Sunday (10 January 2016), Iyad Amin Madani, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), met informally with ten members from MARA Patani, the umbrella organization of the Patani independence movements, in Kuala Lumpur. During the meeting, arranged by Malaysia, they discussed the on-going peace process between MARA and Bangkok. The discussions also included five Thai civil society workers. 
 
Since this informal meeting is about a delicate issue that could impact Thai-Malaysian relations, few details have been revealed to the public. We have learned only that the OIC Secretary-General expressed his interest in and support for the talks, while MARA insists it did not ask the OIC to become an observer in the dialogue, but only urges the OIC to commit to supporting the peace process. It should be noted that during Dialogue 1 between Yingluck Shinawatra administration and the BRN, the liberation movement with the most manpower, one of BRN preliminary demands is to have OIC as an observer of the peace talk. 
 
Nevertheless, Prachatai talked about the details of these talks with Romadon Panjor, editor of the Deep South Watch website and an academic and expert on the Deep South conflict. He was one of the five civil society workers who went to talk with the OIC this past Sunday. This was a phone interview from Malaysia. 
 
 
DEEP SOUTH PEACE TALK FACT BOX
 
Negotiations between the Thai state and liberation movement in Patani or Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, namely Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat and four provinces of Songkla, 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 negotiation “Dialogue 1” was between Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration and BRN, the movement with the most manpower in the field, in 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, with Malaysia acted as a facilitator. However, Dialogue 1 were ended abruptly 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 Dialogue 2, with its first informal talk in June 2015. The liberation groups has established MARA Patani as an umbrella organization for the talk. MARA has proposed three proposals to the Thai junta as prerequisite for a formal, official talk. 
 
BRN’s 5 preliminary demands during Dialogue 1:
  1. Malaysia must be a mediator in the peace talks, not just a facilitator.
  2. The Thai state must recognize the talks as being between Malays in Patani, led by BRN, and the Thai state. 
  3. This negotiation must be witnessed by representatives of the ASEAN countries, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and NGOs.
  4. The Thai state must release all insurgent suspects and inmates, and cancel all arrest warrants without condition.
  5. The Thai state must recognize BRN as an independence movement, not a separatist one. 
MARA’s 3 proposals during Dialogue 2:
  1. Recognize MARA Patani as an official dialogue partner
  2. Place the peace talks as an issue of national importance endorsed by the Thai Parliament, so that future administrations must continue to work on it.
  3. Impunity for MARA members, so that they can enter Thailand and converse with citizens.
MARA includes delegates from organizations such as Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Patani Liberation Organization (PULO), Barisan Islam Perbersasan Patani (BIPP), and Gerekan Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP). The BRN representatives of MARA refused to answer press questions on whether BRN’s involvement in MARA was mandated or not. However, they did comment that they were the “real BRN.” 
 
Romadon Panjor
 
How did you get to go to the discussion with OIC?
 
Initially I was contacted by Abu Hafez Al-Hakim, a MARA delegate, who said that MARA would be meeting with the OIC’s Secretary-General. It was the OIC, not MARA, who suggested meeting with civil society groups. The OIC wanted to include other parties, too. According to the plan, we would all meet before splitting into two groups. MARA had a list of 20 names that they gave to the OIC to invite. OIC chose ten people but only five agreed to come. The other four civil society workers who came work in development and education.
 
How did the meeting go?
 
The meeting schedule kept changing. At first it was planned as two sessions, in the morning and afternoon, but by the time we got to meet, the time available was very limited. The other four civil society workers and I got to talk to the OIC team and MARA during lunch. It was a relaxed atmosphere, since we weren’t following protocol.  Iyad Amin Madani was very easy-going and joking around with all of us. The lunch session lasted about an hour. 
 
During lunch, the OIC Secretary-General asked us civil society workers what they could do to help with the peace process, and how they could support civil society work. Each of us presented our ideas, which included recognization and acceptance of Patani’s history, giving justice to the ethnic Malays, and local area development, for example.
 
As for me, other than the four pages of documents I had prepared about the local situation and its developments, the local atmosphere, civil society involvement, and the expanding dynamics of civil society groups, I also presented my proposals to the OIC. 
 
I proposed that the OIC have a larger role in the peace process, and also pointed out the concerns of the stakeholders in the peace process. That is, while Bangkok is concerned with the role of international players, MARA is concerned with the continuity of the peace talks and recognition of their organization. Meanwhile, civil society groups are concerned about our voices being heard and being included in the peace process. The OIC must see these differences clearly and create productive engagement. Their participation must be meaningful with commitment. This will help stabilize the peace talks.
 
My proposals have the two following details:
 
First, due to the current situation, the OIC could not directly engage in the peace talks. Therefore, the OIC should support the talks through Malaysia’s role, by providing information and facilitating the talks. In addition, they can help publicize understanding about this conflict among the general public on the international stage, as well as supporting Malaysia’s role on the international stage.
 
Second, the OIC can work with the local people through creative approach strategies. From my own experience, foreign organizations are able to interact with locals on many points, such as by providing academic knowledge through various existing local organizations in providing knowledge about the peace process. These local organizations can then connect the OIC to various key players in the area. This will in turn create a peace-making atmosphere. The OIC can provide knowledge about Islamic values and knowledge, helping to find a solution. This is the role that international organizations can play, and is fair and beneficial to all parties.
 
My proposals were different from the others. They gave me special attention and asked for further details. 
 
After lunch, the OIC spoke to MARA.
 
MARA Patani speaks to the OIC Secretary-General at Kuala Lumpur on 10 Jan 2016
 
Who was in the OIC party?
 
In addition to the Secretary-General, the OIC team included many others. The three key persons in the team were Syed Qasim al-Masri, OIC special envoy on Thailand’s Deep South, a director on Muslim minority affairs, and the OIC envoy to Malaysia. From the attendees, we can see that the OIC places much importance on this meeting.
 
Other than MARA, who else spoke to the OIC? For example, the BRN wing which is not in MARA?
 
The OIC spoke to MARA as an umbrella organization, but did not speak to BRN or other organizations separately. There were also 10 officers from Malaysia’s Joint Working Group for the Peace Dialogue Process (JWG-PDP), a working group established to facilitate the peace dialogue consisting of various Malaysian security authorities. 
 
Do you know what MARA and the OIC discussed in the meeting?
 
As far as I know, MARA presented their situation and proposals submitted to Bangkok. The OIC seemed to be interested in and gave importance to only two of MARA’s proposals. The first was naming MARA as Party B, and the second was giving immunity to MARA delegates. The proposal to put the situation at the national agenda level, however, received less interest. OIC saw that the two proposals need to be addressed to move the peace process forward. They see that giving importance to an interlocutor is a crucial issue. Parties in the dialogue must have a stable status. The OIC also seems to think that if MARA is granted immunity, MARA will be able to expand their political, non-violent work. With MARA being stable and secure, then the peace process will also be able to expand as well. But if the peace process cannot be expanded, then it will become brittle. These two proposals will give the dialogue meaning and stability, as well as benefiting both parties.
 
How will the peace dialogue change after this meeting? How has this meeting positively or negatively affected some groups?
 
Whether or not the Thai state accepts the OIC’s proposals, the OIC’s involvement in this meeting gives more weight to the dialogue both for those still on the fence regarding it, and on the world stage. The OIC has fulfilled its proposals to the Thai State made many years ago. One of the OIC proposals was the establishment of a dialogue. At that time the OIC tried to bring the conflict issue of the Deep South to the international stage. Bangkok was displeased and lobbied heavily against it. The OIC’s involvement is a guarantee for the dialogue process, giving the peace process more weight and acceptance.
 
In addition, MARA benefits from this meeting. Those who had doubts about MARA’s role will have to rethink their views. Now MARA has more credibility, this may lead to a stronger, more unifying voice of the liberation movement. Bangkok may view a stronger opposition negatively, but nevertheless it is beneficial to the peace process overall. When the peace process has more weight, acts of armed violence have less. Therefore, Bangkok should view this in a positive light instead. The next step is for Thailand to seriously consider OIC’s proposals.
 
MARA Patani at their first official press conference in Kuala Lumpur on 27 Aug 2015
 
What language was used in the meeting with OIC?
 
I used English, but the other civil society workers used Malay. Some MARA members spoke fluent Arabic, and translated Malay into Arabic. As you can see, the meeting wasn’t very formal.
 
Were there discussions on the sidelines between the five civil society workers and MARA?
 
Yes, there were. We got to know each other more and exchange views regarding the situation. I also briefed them about the changing dynamics in the area.
 
Do you think that Malaysia has overstepped their role of being a facilitator in this OIC meeting?
 
As far as I know, it was the OIC’s initiative to have a meeting with MARA. However, Bangkok will surely be displeased with this, so Malaysia will have to clear it up with Thailand later.
 
Do you have any concerns about repercussions from this meeting, such as being viewed as non-neutral?
 
I’m a bit concerned, but some of the other civil society workers are very concerned. I have my own clear stance. I was just appointed to the Coordination Committee of the Internal Security Operations Command. As you can see, I’m being pulled from both sides. This shows that both sides want to engage civil society groups, listening and sharing with us. 
 
This story was first published in Thai on Prachatai and translated into English by Asaree Thaitrakulpanich.
 
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