Deep South civil society groups urge safe zones for women

As a new round of peace talks between the Thai government and Deep South insurgents approaches, civil society women have demonstrated in support of the talks and to demand safe zones in public spaces. 
On Thursday, 1 September 2016, women — both Buddhists and Muslims — from 23 civil society organizations in the restive Deep South marched on the streets of Pattani to show their support for discussions on the Terms of Reference (ToR) between the Thai government and Mara Patani, an umbrella network representing insurgent groups in the Deep South. The discussions will resume on 2 September in Malaysia, BBC Thai reported
The rally called at at various public places including markets, schools and religious sites, to read statements demanding safe zones where there is a high density of innocent civilians. These zones would be areas where both parties agree not to enact violence.
A statement from the Women’s Agenda for Peace (PAW), one of the 23 organizations, said the group wants the Thai government and Mara Patani to push forward the peace talks despite a variety of obstacles. The group said the talks are the only way to end the conflict peacefully, which would be beneficial for local women.   
“[Public space] is meaningful for the lives, identities and spirits of all women, no matter what their age, religion, language or ethnicity,” reads PAW’s statement. “Women and civilians should have the chance to live peacefully in public spaces without fear of losing their lives, because peace will mean nothing without people.”
Soraya Chamchuri, a member of the Women’s Civic Network for Peace in the Southern Border Provinces, told BBC Thai that the 23 organizations had already submitted a petition to the government and Mara Patani, urging both sides to make a serious commitment to set up safe zones in public places. Both parties agreed with the group’s proposal and promised to raise the topic in the ToR discussions in September.
Women rally at Pattani Central Mosque. The banner reads 'Public spaces must be safe' (Photo courtesy of BBC Thai