Bangkok/Brussels: The south Thailand insurgency has grown less lethal over the past year, but there are worrying indications militants may have expanded operations beyond the traditional conflict zone of the four southernmost provinces. Malay-Muslim rebels have been fighting against Thai rule for more than a decade in what they see as a national-liberation struggle. An official dialogue process between Bangkok and separatist leaders that began in 2013 was doomed by divisions on both sides. Since the 22 May 2014 coup in Bangkok, the junta has focused on preserving bureaucratic and military prerogatives. Although it has vowed to pursue talks, the junta rejects pluralism and political debate, promoting “Thainess” and “unity” concepts that are unlikely to reduce tensions in the south. Resolution of the conflict demands a new relationship between the state and society in the region, which will most likely require greater political decentralisation. All sides should now work to prepare infrastructure for future talks, including dedicated dialogue teams, communications procedures and means for popular participation.
In its current state, the peace dialogue is going nowhere. The military government’s authoritarianism and centralisation of power cast doubt on its ability to make the necessary compromises, while the separatists lack the commitment, political capacity and coherence needed for negotiations to succeed. Matt Wheeler, South East Asia Analyst, @mattzwheeler
The government should endorse dialogue as a national priority, while the separatists must develop the political unity and capacity to negotiate. The delegations’ first focus should be on modest goals like agreeing designations of the parties, and protocols for communication with each other and with the media. Tim Johnston, Asia Program Director, @timalexjohn
Transforming Thailand’s dialogue into a real peace process will be a hard, time-consuming and uncertain task. Both sides must start establishing the necessary understandings and infrastructure now, so that they can move expeditiously when the environment for substantive talks is more promising. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President & CEO, @JGuehenno
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