So-called “peace talks” with Muslim Malay rebels will not solve the crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A large proportion of the Muslim Malay population in “Patani” want freedom and self-determination. Many want independence from the oppressive Thai state. This is about basic democracy.

But Thailand is not a democracy. Today it is ruled by a backward military junta which has suppressed democracy and freedom of expression throughout the country. What is more, the junta is in the process of crafting a permanent non-democratic political system.

The military is hell-bent on maintaining Thailand as a unitary state. It is fanatically nationalistic and royalist. It has death squads who carry out extra-judiciary killings in Patani. It has not hesitated to shoot down pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets of Bangkok. It sanctions torture of dissidents in Patani, but also in Bangkok.

So how can anyone believe that negotiations between the rebel groups, PULO/BRN, and the Thai military could possibly result in a peace deal?

The military’s main aim in these talks is to achieve a negotiated surrender by the armed rebels in return for a few crumbs like extra development grants or raising the status of the local Yawee language. But they will not countenance independence for Patani or even democratic autonomy.

The fact that we do not really know exactly what proportion of local people in Patani support PULO or BRN is because there is no freedom of expression. Political parties advocating independence are banned and their members would be subjected to brutal repression.  The whole area is highly militarised, both by the Thai army and its auxiliary forces, and also by the shadowy armed rebels. Under such circumstances no open discussions about the future of Patani can take place. Such discussions would need to include all the multitude of political views held by all ethnic and religious groups and the various social classes among the local population.

Real negotiations about the future of Patani can only take place between elected civilian representatives. The army should play no part in this or in the wider political sphere.

It might be possible for the military to brutalise and bribe PULO and BRN into a negotiated surrender. That has happened before. But it would merely prolong this chronic crisis while a new generation of fighters develops out of the continuing state of injustice.

The future for peace and stability in Patani is closely bound up with the state of democracy in Thai society. But democracy alone is not enough. We know how the democratically elected Taksin government presided over the cold blooded murder many innocent young men at Takbai in 2004. What is also needed, therefore, is a movement, based outside Patani, which mobilises against the nationalist jingoism of the Thai state.

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