Interview with Deep South liberation movement on peace dialogue

Prachatai talked with a key member of Thailand’s restive Deep South’s liberation movement engaging in a peace dialogue with Bangkok about the violence during Ramadan month, their strategy and the future of the peace process. 
 
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim gives interview at his office which is decorated with the pictures of two ancient mosques in Patani. 
 
Kamaludin Hanapi, better known as Abu Hafez Al-Hakim, a delegate and key member of MARA Patani, an umbrella organization of the Deep South independent movements, talked with Prachatai’s Thaweeporn Kummetha in Malaysia. 
 
In April, Bangkok had almost reached an agreement with the insurgents on the Terms of Reference (TOR). The TOR not only sets the rules for further talks, but also includes the three-point proposal of MARA Patani, and, if signed, will kick start the official talk and negotiation. Bangkok’s decision not to approve the TOR and to remove Lt Gen Nakrob Bunbuathong, then head of the Thai delegation to the peace talks, disappointed the Muslim Malay delegates and the civil society in the region. The new TOR, which has been unilaterally revised by Bangkok, was reportedly sent to Malaysia, the facilitator, to be later sent to MARA Patani delegate. However, Bangkok’s decision has sparked criticism that the military government, as evident in the past, is not sincere or serious in negotiation, and only cares about ending armed struggle. 
 
When Abu Hafez first gave an in-depth interview to Prachatai in July 2015 (Read here), he was notably more confident in talking with the military government than he is now. He reasoned that the Army is the one who has a final say in any policy regarding the Deep South. During the latest encounter, he told Prachatai with a different tone that MARA Patani is aimed at keeping the continuation of the peace dialogue. The group also monitors the transitional period of Thai politics that, he believes, will surely affect the peace process. 
 
 
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.” 
 
 
Video interview in English
 
 
 
Is there a demand or proposal from the Thai authorities for the ceasefire agreement during this Ramadan? 
 
There has been no agreement for a ceasefire during this Ramadan but we did receive a proposal from Party A that they want to have some sort of ceasefire for this Ramadan. Anyways, MARA Patani declined the proposal for two reasons. First, the proposal came very very late. We had less than one month before the Ramadan. We don't have enough time for preparation. Secondly, the process hasn't been officialized yet. Party A hasn't yet approved the TOR. The process hasn't been formalized. Without the formalization of the process, we can't proceed with the discussion of safety zone, in which the ceasefire is part and parcel of. Had the TOR been approved by Party A or the Thai side, we would have progressed to the next level of the discussion of a safety zone. The ceasefire during Ramadan would be a very good opportunity for confidence building measure at this stage of peace process
 
How's the peace dialogue II? Has it come to an end? It seems like MARA Patani has used tactics to pressure the Thai government to seriously continue with the peace talk, including holding press conference at KL, and talking with Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), but the Thai government still does not take the peace dialogue seriously. What will be your next move? 
 
We're still at the early stage of the peace dialogue process. We're still working on the TOR which has not been approved. So at this stage, the process has not been officialized, so  how could you say that it is ended. The fact that MARA Patani is committed to the peace process and the fact that we make an engagement to the OIC and media and other international bodies is to affirm our commitment to the peace process. So to this process, we will try to find a solution through a peaceful means. Our next move is just to wait for the response of Party A regarding the TOR. We would like to know which are the issue inside the TOR which they are not happy with and we are waiting for the feedback. They have to send us the feedback and opinion though the facilitator. So we are waiting. 
 
One of the questions that Bangkok faces so often is that whether MARA Patani is real and in control of the fighters, given the fact that there are occasional statements and actions from a faction of BRN, which is signal against MARA Patani and peace talk. When the rest of population in Thailand is doubtful with the peace dialogue, the junta is pressured to answer this doubtful questions. Do you think the failure to unite the separatist movements, especially some factions of BRN, contribute to the halt of the peace dialogue? 
 
 MARA Patani is real because it comprises five liberation movements. The Thai security officials are very well-aware of this. We know that some of the people who are now in MARA and some of the groups who are now in MARA were involved in the previous dialogue with the civilian government -- the government under Premier Yingluck. You cannot say that these people are not real people because they are real members of the organizations and the organizations are real. Regarding the differences in opinion within the BRN, we consider this as internal issue that the BRN has to sort it out for themselves because this is very normal in any peace process to have differences even among your own rank-and-file. For example during the Dialogue I, we know that Party A, the government side, and the military were not really on board. Although they were sitting at the table, they were not really agreeing with the government regarding the involvement in the peace process. The Thai government should not be worried that they are talking to the people even if there will be another peace process later on. Against these are the people who will get involved in the dialogue process because they are the people and are the group facing the Thai government right now.  
 
 
Has the Patani Independence movement considered swaying support of the Thai people outside Patani
 
Yes, we are looking into this because there is no reason why the Thai public cannot support our cause because this is not a matter of religion, it has nothing to do with religion, but it has everything to do with justice and a deprivation of our rights and freedom. Throughout the years, we have been suppressed and have been peosecuted endlessly, and now under the current junta, the general Thai public is feeling the pain of living under suppressed rule of a military government. So at this point,  they should be aware and should agree that under these circumstances, there is oppression and there is discrimination and a deprivation of rights. So now, they should know how we people, who live in Patani, have been feeling for many years. 
 
I know that you have invited many civil society member from Patani for a talk. What did you discuss with them and learn from them?
 
The CSOs and NGOs alike are part and parcel  of the stakeholders of the Patani conflict because they are from the people. So their role, which is  very important and significant, is that they should play a very important role in supporting the peace process. They are not there to get involved in the main track, they are not there to get involved with party A or party B, but they have to play a very supportive so as to stabilize the process. They can channel their opinions through proper and appropriate channels, their suggestions, or even their criticisms, in matters related to the peace process. In this way, they can make their voices heard, and their role is being accepted so that they are also part of the big picture of the peace process. The most important thing that we would like for them to know is that they don’t have to support MARA, but only that when we engage with them, we want them to know what MARA is, what MARA is all about, what we are going to do, and what is our vision for the future that we are trying to achieve to seek a political solution through this peace process. So when they have an understanding of who we are and what we are trying to achieve, perhaps they would be in a better position to play their important role in supporting this peace process by creating a safety net, so as to safeguard this peace process in the event that the process meets some unexpected obstacles and may stall or even stop. So the CSOs and NGOs will have to empower themselves so that they will play a very active role in this aspect. 
 
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