Indonesia recently dispatched ten Islamic preachers to Southern Thailand for a week-long mission, and stands ready to take a more active role in promoting peace in the troubled region, officials say.
During the delegation's send-off ceremony on July 23rd, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said Indonesia has built a "bridge for peace" and desired to help resolve the long-standing separatist insurgencies in Thailand's Deep South.
"We will have more Islamic preachers involved in exchange programmes in the future," Suryadharma said.
He added that Indonesia has made other efforts to help resolve the conflict, such as providing scholarships from the Religious Affairs Ministry for 50 students from the southern provinces to study in Islamic universities in Indonesia.
In May, Suryadharma and Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X welcomed an official delegation from Thailand's Southern Border Province Administration Center (SBPAC) on a two-day visit to Yogyakarta.
The delegation was comprised of representatives from Pattani, Songkhla, Yala, Narathiwat and Satun provinces, and their agenda included visits to the Islamic University of Sunan Kalijaga and the Al-Munawir boarding school in Yogyakarta.
Paving the way for peace
Ratna Shofi Inayati, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said that focusing on improving education in Southern Thailand could be an entry point for Indonesia to be more involved in the peace process.
Ratna added that the conflicts in the Malay-speaking provinces could also be addressed by empowering local small and medium enterprises to help reduce the conflict.
"Social conflict resolution for southern Thailand is best approached through social, education, and economic improvements of the people there, but it needs to be free from any political nuances," she told Khabar Southeast Asia.
"If all goes well for the three approaches, it could pave the way to find resolution for the political conflict," she added.
In July, Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) that Indonesia would be ready to share what it has learned from achieving a peaceful resolution in 2005 to decades of bloody separatist movement in Aceh.
"Our position is clear. We are ready to share lessons learned from our own experience, but only in an appropriate way and only when asked by Thailand," Marty told the July 10th forum, according to The Bangkok Post.
Marty also cited Indonesia's experience in 2011 calming things down between Thailand and Cambodia after their long-running border conflict erupted near the centuries-old Preah Vihear temple. Soldiers from both sides exchanged fire, killing at least 11 people and displacing thousands of residents from the border areas.
Indonesia took a mediating role in its capacity as the 2011 chair of ASEAN when the United Nations Security Council told the two countries to resolve the matter through regional means.
Will Thailand seek international help?
But it is unlikely that Thailand would resort to a regional mechanism on its Deep South insurgency problem, said Dinna Wisnu, director of Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy.
"Given the lack of common denominators between member states on such issues and Thailand's inward-oriented agenda, which gives the impression it has been taking careful measures on decisions relating to ASEAN, a bilateral mechanism could work better [than a regional one] in this case," Dinna said.
"However, Indonesia cannot take the initiative, since this is very much a domestic issue of Thailand," she added.
"Indonesia's role remains unclear so far, although it has been informally contacted by the Thais," Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior Thai journalist and observer of ASEAN issues, told Khabar in an e-mail.
"Thailand might seek to ask international players to escalate peace negotiation such as Japan or Norway, even though it has previously refused to involve international parties in the process," Kavi said.
In recent months, Malaysia has hosted three rounds of peace talks between the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), one of the main Deep South rebel groups. The talks have had few concrete outcomes thus far, raising questions about their effectiveness.