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Thai PM, opposition leader to discuss peace in restive south

Publication Date : 13-09-2012


Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva will sit together next Tuesday to discuss the situation and consider solutions to restore peace in the restive south.

Yingluck said she had instructed her deputy Chalerm Yoobamrung to send an invitation letter to Abhisit and Democrat MPs to join in the meeting which she will chair at the Government House on Tuesday.

The idea to have such a meeting was floated by Chalerm weeks ago but Abhisit said he would only attend if Yingluck was there. Violence in the predominantly Muslim region erupted in early 2004, killing more than 5,000 people so far. Governments have been struggling to contain the violence and many methods employed by authorities have not worked.

Chalerm floated an idea recently to hold governor elections for the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Conservative politicians opposed the idea, saying polls would not solve the problem but would separate the three provinces from Thailand. Chalerm replied he would add the resort island of Phuket to the group of provinces and hold an election for governor's post, proving that such an election was possible and would not lead to the island being separated.

Chalerm added that the issue would be discussed at a meeting with opposition politicians next week, in the hope that the Democrats - who have a strong presence in the south - would agree to join the meeting.

Abhisit said he had accepted the invitation and that his fellow party members were ready to cooperate with the government. "The deep South is a major issue in the country, so it's important to have the prime minister in command, at least to prevent confusion among operational agencies," he said.

Government agencies and officials should speak the same language, he said, suggesting that if the military began negotiating with insurgents, then Chalerm should not oppose it.

A number of insurgents led by Wae-aricopter Waji reportedly proposed to turn themselves as part of a plea bargain scheme under Article 21 of the Security Law - but Chalerm said those who had committed criminal acts had no right to bargain for amnesty.

The military appears to have contradicted itself when Fourth Army Region Commander Udomchai Thammasarorat said yesterday that no such negotiations were underway. Yet, at the same time the military opened dialogue with concerned parties to seek a way to end the violence. For those who have committed crimes, the military said it would help give them access to justice.

Many insurgents are accused of committing crimes such as shooting and bombing, while Wae-aricopter has a 1-million baht bounty (US$32,200)  on his head.

Abhisit, meanwhile, said the government needed a clear policy on the matter and Yingluck should make the decisions, otherwise the operation would be confused.

"If have a chance to meet the prime minister, I will suggest many things, notably the operational structure and the role of the premier in the chain of command," he said.

Abhisit proposed debating the issue in Parliament, but Yingluck is unlikely to want such open discussion.

The former PM, however, said that Yingluck, as prime minister, had the responsibility of taking an important issue such as this one to Parliament.


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