The Thai government and the Deep South insurgent groups have agreed on preconditions before moving ahead to the ‘official’ peace talks and a discussion over establishing safe zones in the restive region.
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim, a delegate and key member of MARA Patani, an umbrella organization of the Deep South independent movements, announced on Friday, 2 September 2016, that the group and representatives of the Thai government to the Deep South peace negotiations in Malaysia had reached an agreement on the latest version of the Terms of Reference (ToR).
Agreement of the two parties on the TOR is crucial as a precondition for official peace talks between the two, with Malaysia acting as facilitator to the talks.
According to MARA Patani, they have agreed on the following:
- Accept the latest version of the ToR
- Agree in principle to discuss the issue of Safety Zones in the coming talks
- Accept the proposals from the Women's Agenda for Peace for further evaluation and discussion
- Continue unofficial meetings of the Joint Working Group-Peace Dialogue Process (JWG-PDP)
The agreement of the two parties came only one day after 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).
The rally called for various public places including markets, schools and religious sites, where there is a high density of innocent civilians, to be declared as safe zones where both parties agree not to engage in 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.
However, Thapanee Ietsrichai, a senior reporter from Channel 3 TV, posted on her Facebook account that Gen Akkara Kerdphol, the government’s head representative at the peace talks, had publically confirmed that there was no actual ratification of the ToR in the meeting in Malaysia.
Predominantly Muslim Malay, the region, composed of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla, has been pervaded by armed conflict for the past decade which has claimed almost 6,500 lives.