Published: Friday December 5, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday December 5, 2014 MYT 7:13:44 AM

Bangkok values KL’s role in Thai peace talks

While it is good news that Malaysia is the sole facilitator for peace talks in southern Thailand, the deep mistrust among the parties involved will make negotiations tough.

SINCE he was endorsed as Prime Minister by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in August, Prayut Chan-o-cha has been trying to make an introductory visit to Malaysia.

It is quite understandable, really.

The Thai Prime Minister is aware of Malaysia’s leading role among Asean countries and the security and trade concerns shared between the two close neighbours.

More importantly, Malaysia is the facilitator of the peace effort between the Thai government and insurgent groups Barisan Revolusi Negara, comprising Pattani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo) and Barisan Islam Pembebasan Pattani (BIPP).

So when Prayut made his trip to Putra­jaya on Monday, one of the first things he made known when he met Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was that he recognised the Prime Minister’s leadership in the region.

Officials said Najib obviously left quite an impression on Prayut and he was quite respectful of Najib throughout the bilateral meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“He wasted no time in voicing his views of Malaysia and the Prime Minister.

“During his short time in office, Prayut said he has seen the Prime Minister at international summits like Asean, Apec and Asem.

“Najib has proven himself by taking lea­dership at these meetings,” said a Malaysian official who said Prayut spoke through an interpreter at the one-hour delegation meeting.

Prior to that, Najib held a “restricted meeting” with Prayut for 30 minutes.

When the Thai military carried a coup d’etat in May and Prayut became the de facto leader, one of Malaysia’s concerns was the peace talk which started under the then government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

At the bilateral talks in Putrajaya on Mon­­­day, Prayut gave uplifting news to the Malaysian government – that Malaysia would be the sole facilitator.

There were reports earlier that other parties may also be given the task but Prayut had, since taking over, said that Malaysia remained the facilitator.

So serious was he to show his government’s commitment to the peace process that he brought along Gen Aksara Kerdpol, the new chief negotiator and introduced him to the Malaysian delegation.

So far, four rounds of talks have been held in Kuala Lumpur, with the last being in Sep­tember last year.

Several informal ones were also held because the peace talks are still in the initial stage and, according to one insider, this will be a long process.

“Not everything can be smooth sailing as many things need to be addressed. Everybody is not certain of each other.

“Generally, people in southern Thailand don’t trust the military because they feel that they have been badly treated by the military for so many years,” said an official.

This deep mistrust will make negotiations tougher.

The Malaysian Government is well aware of the lack of trust on the ground.

But officials said it was important to continue engagement among the parties involved in the peace talks and as Malaysia had been accepted by them.

“We are not against a multi-track approach but the Thais prefer only us. They realised our support is vital.

“If we are not accepted, we can’t perform the role of facilitator,” said one official.

On his return to Bangkok, Prayut was quo­ted by the Thai media as saying he had asked Najib to ensure all groups would take part.

“We are now waiting for Malaysia to contact the insurgent groups to make sure that all groups will join the talks.

“Otherwise, those who have been left out may resort to violence to seek to join the table,” Prayut said.

The question is: how fast can all the parties go back to the table.

An official reckoned it will take at least three to four months for the Malaysian facilitator Datuk Seri Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim to get things organised.

However, it was not just peace talks that was on the agenda during the bilateral discussion.

Najib told Prayut that Malaysia, which would chair Asean next year, wanted to start an initiative to promote the region as a destination.

Also discussed was bilateral trade which recorded a slight decrease this year for the first time after more than a decade of favourable growth.

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, who was at the delegation meeting, said the decline was due to the Thai economy which was expected to grow minimally.

Prayut’s half day trip was obviously to build rapport and to show Bangkok’s commitment to reinvigorate the peace process.

According to reports since the outbreak of the insurgency about a decade ago, the conflict between Malay Muslims and the Thai state in southern Thailand has left more than 6,000 dead and countless others wounded.

But it is a complex matter that will ob­viously take time to resolve as mistrust can lead to all kinds of unnecessary actions, especially in the deep south of Thailand.

Tags / Keywords: Mergawati Zulfakar

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