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Last updateTue, 22 Nov 2016 12pm

Far South peace talks 'must include all groups'

Abhisit says all obstacles to dialogue for ending insurgency must be removed

DEMOCRAT PARTY leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and a former Muslim MP have voiced their support for continued dialogue between security authorities and insurgents based in the far South after the military's seizure of power in May.

However, clearer rules and preconditions and internal arrangements need to be agreed on and completed before both sides begin future rounds of talks and go public about the progress, the former prime minister said yesterday.

The three previous rounds didn't seem to run smoothly, probably because not all groups of insurgents were included. All groups active in the insurgency should be made to participate in forthcoming rounds, he said.

Jeh-aming Tohtayong, a former Democrat MP for Narathiwat, said he was supportive of further dialogues, regardless of the addition of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), which threw its support for the role of General Akanit Muensawas as the new key negotiator, despite reported opposition by other groups of insurgents.

He also voiced support for Thawil Pliensri, secretary-general of the National Security Council, as another key negotiator who took over the role of Paradorn Patthanatabutr as the sole chief negotiator.

The earlier talks were not very successful possibly because not all groups of insurgents were at the table, he said.

Thawil last week went to Malaysia, which mediated all three previous rounds of talks and hosted all sessions, and held talks with his counterpart. He said upon return to Thailand that Malaysia agreed to continue the mediator's role and approved of further talks. No chief negotiators have been appointed from both sides, and both countries' prime ministers would soon meet.

While the focus after the coup has mostly been the human rights situation in Bangkok, human rights defenders said their work in the strife-torn deep South has only become more difficult after the military coup nearly four months ago.

"Personally speaking, it's harder to work in the areas," said Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation.

Holding human rights activities in the three southernmost provinces has become more difficult and even universities have to seek permission from the Fourth Army Area before organising any such activity.

"Nobody is holding [human rights] public events. We hold small private talks instead. Community radios have also been shut down," she said.

Talks about the peace process have become more difficult as a result, she said.

Although martial law has been in effect in the deep South for many years now, enforcement of restrictions under the law has become stricter and cases of soldiers and security officers surrounding suspected areas have increased.

"Violence has also increased," she said.

"There's a vacuum of hope."

Hara Shintaro, a lecturer of Malay studies at Prince of Songkhla University's Pattani Campus and an active advocate for human rights in the area, said since the coup, all community radios that served as some of the most important news channels for villagers have been closed, and some NGOs and civil society organisations' activities have to be altered so as not to provoke the junta.

"I must say that no harsh measures have been taken by the military to suppress criticism. We have been under martial law for more than 10 years, and the traditional security-related but still disordered detentions, enclosures enclosures of villages and other measures that might affect human rights of the local people continue to this day."

Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that since the coup, the government's approach to the issue of violence in the deep South is no longer a broad and comprehensive one that seeks to accommodate the grievances of Muslims.

"It reflects the National Council for Peace and Order's perspective that they're not happy with a participatory and inclusive approach. The new approach is top-down and military-oriented. It aims for a tactical ceasefire, not comprehensive peace," he said.

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