Channel NewsAsia

Malaysia hopeful of resumption of southern Thailand peace talks

Malaysia's facilitators of the southern Thailand peace process are optimistic that a dialogue can soon resume, in order to reach a peace accord by next year.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's facilitators of the southern Thailand peace process are optimistic that a dialogue can soon resume, in order to reach a peace accord by next year.

There have been fears the situation in Thailand's troubled deep south may deteriorate if the political impasse in Bangkok continues.

The region has been gripped by violence, but Malaysia said it is prepared to help... whenever Thai leaders are ready to approach the negotiating table again.

When the first formal peace dialogue between the Thai government and the Muslim rebel group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) began last February, it generated genuine optimism.

Both sides initially see a concerted effort being made to bring lasting peace to a region wrecked by almost a decade of ethnic violence - a conflict that has claimed over than 5,000 lives.

Now one year on, and with the political climate in Bangkok volatile, doubt lingers over the negotiations.

But Malaysia's chief facilitator Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim hasn't given up.

Even though talks have stalled since June, he said his team is still actively engaging both sides on a regular basis, to keep the peace process alive.

Mr Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim, chief facilitator of a Joint Working Group in the Southern Thailand Peace Process, said: "We do not see that the whole process has failed. It's an impasse. An impasse in the sense that, in quite a way, contributed by what's happening in Bangkok because of the uncertainty. But I strongly believe that once the situation in Bangkok is settled, we will go back, not only to the drawing board, but also to be able to move the whole exercise again."

Mr Zamzamin has credited his team for bringing on board all three factions of rebel group Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO).

Their leaders, he said, signed the Muharam declaration in November to join BRN, the most influential rebel group at the negotiating table.

Despite this, the violence has continued.

Reports of target killings involving women and children, and a recent deadly bombing in Thailand's southern provinces, has prompted Mr Zamzamin to urge for talks to resume in haste.

Political observers, however, warned of a tough road ahead, even if the peace process is revived.

Mr Keith Leong, research associate at KRA Group, said: "I don't think they have much to show for it, and it's hard to see how it's going to go forward, considering that Bangkok theoretically doesn't have a legitimate government. There's got be a paradigm change in how Bangkok views southern Thailand, in fact the whole of the country.

"The view of the Thai elite is that Thailand is indivisible, it is a unitary state and that no concessions can be made for local autonomy, no concessions can be made over language, over culture. As long as this attitude prevails among the Thai elite, it's going to be very hard for any progress to be made."

Mr Zamzamin will be in Bangkok this week to highlight the urgency of the peace process that's at risk of being thrown into political oblivion. 

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