July 20, 2013
Analysts in Thailand's Deep South are voicing cautious optimism over a verbal agreement between the Thai government and one network of separatist insurgents to ease hostilities during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Under the agreement, announced July 12th by independent mediator Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim, Thai authorities would refrain from "aggressive actions" while insurgent groups loyal to the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) would not engage in "armed attacks, bombings and ambushes" against Thai troops, AFP reported.
The agreement extends from July 10th to August 18th – covering all of Ramadan and the following ten days. The statement, made by Hashim with no representatives of either the BRN or Thai government present, resulted in a flurry of discussion on social media among religious leaders, academics, student groups, local leaders and general public.
The general consensus was that the agreement, although temporary, sent a positive message and bolstered hopes for long-lasting peace in the region.
"It's a good chance for both sides to do this experiment and see what the next goal on the path to peace should be," Abdulsuko Dinoh, director of a project to strengthen community health networks at the subdistrict level in Yala, told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Factions could seek to disrupt truce
Worries persist, however, that the fragmented nature of the Deep South insurgency will continue to present obstacles to peace, as rival groups seek to contest the BRN's influence.
"The worrisome thing is that the goal of the announced agreement might be jeopardized by third parties who don't agree with either side and therefore want to create an atmosphere for their talks to fail," Abdulsuko said. "Thus, both parties should be patient and exercise as much restraint as possible – and the general Thai populace must do the same."
"If the BRN can really demonstrate a real reduction in the number of incidents over the 40-day period it will resonate with the public, who will then put pressure on the other groups to follow suit," he said.
Opposing groups have shown signs this week that they will try to disrupt the truce. On Wednesday (July 17th), paramilitary ranger Thop Chaipol was slightly injured by a roadside bomb in Bannang Sata district, Yala, while his company patrolled a road on foot. Citing local sources, The Bangkok Post reported the explosion may have been the work of Sagareeya Samoe, an insurgent leader who opposes the Ramadan truce.
The same day, a bomb exploded as six soldiers were crossing a bridge in Narathiwat's Cho Airong district, on their way to provide security for a local school. Two were injured.
Several other attacks have occurred since July 10th, causing at least three fatalities, though police say some may be due to personal conflicts rather than the insurgency.
Prasit Meksuwan, president of the Civil Society Council of the Southern Border Provinces, said that if there is violence it is vital that any incident is fully investigated so the public knows who is responsible
"If we can get through the 40-day period without any violence it will make a good foundation for future discussions, increasing confidence in the government and increasing the BRN's status among (other) insurgents as a group with ideals," he told Khabar.
Peace talks could yield concrete steps
Analysts say the long-term prospects for the peace dialogue hinge on whether it is able to generate concrete results. While the government is under pressure to show it can bring about a reduction in violence, the BRN also needs to demonstrate its effectiveness in the negotiations.
According to Prasit, the government should consider the BRN's seven demands, which include troop withdrawal and a suspension of certain activities by security officials during Ramadan. "If accepting the seven demands can help restore peace to our homeland then I think people of all different faiths will be for that because we all share the common goal of peace," he said.
Abdulsuko agreed, saying the government should mull the possibility of a troop drawdown if the BRN is able to maintain peace during the truce. He added that the public can help the cause by demonstrating their desire for peace.
Speaking on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog signaled that Bangkok may be open to a troop reduction if the lull in violence can be sustained.
"We won't withdraw troops from the area but we can reduce the number and focus on development rather than fighting," he told reporters.
Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of Deep South Watch, described the Ramadan accord as a milestone.
"The Ramadan peace initiative is a positive first step in the peace discussions because it is the first time we have had any such agreement or mutual understanding. So it is new and even historically significant that it could come to be. It also lays a good foundation and first step for more peace talks in the future," he told Khabar.