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However you spin it, the peace process is dead
Publication Date : 13-09-2013
The south Thailand peace process that was hastily put together and announced on February 28 is dead, but one wonders how many more violent deaths it will take before the government accepts this reality.
It was initially billed as a "dialogue" aimed at building confidence before the actual negotiations took place.
But it didn't take long before things began to crumble. The so-called Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) group took up microphone diplomacy to make its case. Thai officials responded in the same manner. Before we knew it, the whole thing became a political circus aired in public.
Today, more than six months after launching its bid for peace through dialogue with the separatists, the government is quickly running out of spin, sound bites and anything else that might make sense to the public.
It never occurred to the Thai side that these insurgents, along with their political leaders living abroad, could see through the insincerity of the government right from the fanfare of the talks' launch.
While key agencies like the Foreign Ministry and the Army were kept in the dark about the initiative until the last minute, the government mobilised politicians in its southern network without questioning their credibility or how they were perceived by the separatists.
The government also approached prominent local Islamic figures, including the Ulema Council of Fatoni and the leaders of a youth network. Both groups were deemed important because they have the trust of the local community. The fact that they share the same geographical space as the insurgents would indeed make them important dialogue partners.
But the two groups gave the government the cold shoulder, saying the initiative was somewhere between a hoax and a leap of faith.
Moreover, the assassination of Imam Abdullateh Todir last November, reportedly by a pro-government death squad, confirmed their point that sticking their neck out for the government was not a safe bet.
To a significant number of people - Thai and Malaysian government officials, separatists and other stakeholders - the latest peace talks were merely a bid to wash the bloody stain from ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra's past handling of the conflict.
After the Krue Se stand-off and the Tak Bai massacre, as well as the use of abduction and extrajudicial and target killings, the separatists aren't about to let bygones be bygones.
Thaksin thought he could sweet-talk the separatist leaders when he met with about 16 of them in Kuala Lumpur in March 2012.
Participants reported that he didn't apologise for the atrocities committed during his time in office. In fact, he brushed aside his questionable tactics by blaming Thai bureaucrats for "giving him wrong information".
Two weeks later the militants taught Thaksin and his crew a nasty lesson. An entire street in Yala was devastated by three car bombs, while at the same time another went off in the basement of a downtown hotel in Hat Yai. More than a dozen people were killed and well over 100 injured.
The message was clear: You can't artificially jumpstart a peace process with men who have no command and control on the ground.
And it makes no sense whatsoever to try and verify such command after going public with your "peacemaking" intention.