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The Lam Phaya attack and the peace talk– what was the signal?

Abu Hafez Al-Hakim is the spokesperson for MARA Patani who is directly involved in the peace talk. This article reflects his personal views and not the official view of MARA Patani.

Royal Thai Army Region 4 joined the funeral of 15 people killed on 5 November 2019.

When we gathered to discuss the latest issues and development in the Deep South a fortnight ago, someone casually asked: why has there been no (violent) incidences lately? Everything seems quite. Another person answered: usually, there’s a calm before the storm.
 

Then the answer was confirmed on the night of 5th November 2019  at  Lam Phaya, a village in  Yala province, 18 kilometres from the city centre. The incidence was widely reported. It was a storm indeed, of firepowers and blood.

That was not the first time a security unit manned by ill-equipped and ill-trained personals being targeted. The previous one was in the Muang District of Pattani a few months ago.

Some considered the village volunteers as soft targets while others considered them legitimate ones since they were trained and armed. Whatever they may be, they seemed to be “easy targets” by the armed group to top up their arms supply, compared to regular or specially trained soldiers. The policy of training and arming civilians (farmers by day soldiers by night) by Thai security apparatus on the pretext of village self-defence has backfired.   

Naturally, all fingers point to the BRN (Barisan Revolusi Nasional), the most dominant liberation movement for Patani independence. Based on the modus operandi and the previous track records, I tend to agree, pending official investigation result by the authorities.

The next FAQ is, if it was the work of BRN, apart from the “business goes as usual” operation, what signal was the BRN trying to send across to the other party i.e. the Thai state? Was it a mere retaliation or has it got anything to do with the current dwindling peace process and the ongoing new initiative to resume/revive another round of peace dialogue? 

We now know that when the first official dialogue started at Kuala Lumpur in February 2013 (dialogue 1) the Patani Malay movements were represented by Ustaz Hassan Taib from the BRN as the chief negotiator. Unfortunately, the much publicised peace process lasted for only nine months when both sides faced internal problems: The BRN was not happy with the process when its five demands were ignored, prompting them to stripped Hassan off his post, while Thailand was in a political turmoil that led to military takeover months later. 

The peace talks resumed (dialogue 2) when the military-led government initiated the so-called “Happiness process” rather than the peace process, in December 2014. This time around the Patani movements grouped themselves to form MARA Patani (Patani Consultative Council) consisting of five liberation movements. The mainstream BRN stayed away from the pact and the dialogue table while some of its members participated in the process. Another member of BRN, Ustaz Shukri Hari was appointed as the head of the MARA Patani dialogue team.

Both sides started with the confidence-building measures: drafting the Terms of Reference (TOR), jointly designed the General Framework for Safety Zones (SZ), the establishment of The Safe House (SH) and the formation of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) at the ground level. All had been accepted and agreed.

By April 2018 the Safety Zones at the district of Cho Ai-Rong as the pilot project was ready to kick start. However, the Thai side was not ready to sign the agreement for certain “reasons” while MARA Patani opined that signing was necessary for the safety and security of its members.  It was a deadlock. The implementation of SZ was put on hold.

When there was a change of government in Malaysia after the May 2018 general election, the facilitator was replaced. Thailand also appointed a new chief negotiator, General Udomchai Thammasarorat, who then sought for direct engagement with the Patani movements, especially the mainstream BRN.  However, at least on two occasions, the mainstream BRN turned down General Udomchai’s request for a preliminary meeting. As the effort proved futile he had to return to face MARA Patani at the table.

 A misunderstanding occurred on the first proposed meeting date in early February at Kuala Lumpur. It prompted Ustaz Shukri to call off the meeting and postponed it until after the upcoming Thai election scheduled in March 2019. Another deadlock. Finally, the process stalled and stopped. General Udomchai would be remembered as the chief Thai negotiator who had never sat at the dialogue table.  Nevertheless, the technical teams met briefly in early August 2019.      

All these while, the mainstream BRN, who was not on board, has been closely monitoring the dialogue through its proxies. From time to time its Information officer issued statements affirming their stance and opinion on the peace process. Among others, they stressed on international norm and standard of the peace process with foreign involvement, the credibility and the impartiality of the mediator, a road map and the design of the process mutually drawn and the sincerity of the Thai government to officially recognise its dialogue partner.

As usual, Thailand ignored them. Whenever there was any violent incidence in the Deep South, or sometimes outside, it was usually interpreted as the BRN trying to flex its muscles and sending a constant reminder to the Thai state to be committed and sincere in the peace talks. Could the Lam Phaya attack be another signal?

Of late there have been rumours that the mainstream BRN is ready to return to the table in Kuala Lumpur after MARA Patani and Thailand had relatively failed to make significant progress in the dialogue.  It is too soon, however, to ascertain whether the BRN will come solo or will let other groups tag along. Internal communication amongst the ranks and files of liberation movements’ high officials is supposedly underway. Whether a new coalition is expected to surface, or the existing MARA Patani will continue its role remains to be seen. 

As a person who is directly involved in the peace talks, I personally do not see the political will and sincere commitment from the government of Thailand (especially the military guided administration) for real peace in the Deep South. Recently General Udomchai was dismissed and General Wallop Raksanoh has been appointed in his place. I would like to suggest that Thailand reviews and revaluates its stance and policy pertaining to its limitation and concern in certain issues that hinder the peace process from moving forward. Perhaps this article by a Thai academic could be an eye-opener towards the realistic approach the government can adopt if it wants true peace. 

A few days ago a statement was posted in the Facebook by “BRN Barisan Revolusi National” (National instead of Nasional) clarifying its stance and motive behind the military operations.

Although it was not issued by the usual Information Department of BRN through its spokesman (Abdul Karim Khalid), I think it is authentic based on its content and timing. Lam Phaya was not specifically mentioned but in between the lines, the BRN has indirectly acknowledged its involvement in the attack. The message and the signal were clear.

The cards now are in the hands of the Thai administration whether they would respond accordingly to the BRN’s proposals and give the peace process a momentum to move forward or trash them away and let the Deep South burn in flame. If that is the case Lam Phaya will not be the last.

10 November 2019