"Safety zones" idea moves one step closer to reality
Villages in Bacho and Cho Airong districts of Narathiwat have been designated to be declared “ safety zones” by a joint working committee of the government and an umbrella organization of southern separatist groups known as Mara Patani at recent meeting in early November in Malaysia.
The government was represented by four security officials whose names were not known whereas Mara Patani delegation was led by Masukree Haree, according to a well-informed source.
In the next step, the source said that the two sides would work out the "joint mechanism" to enforce the safety zones which should include the setting up of a joint panel to determine, in case there are violent incidents, which sides are responsible.
Once the "joint mechanism" is agreed upon by the joint working committee, it will be tabled to the higher level of committees of both sides which are expected to meet in Kuala Lumpur in December, said the source.
"Safety zones" are one of the three initial proposals tabled by the government’s delegation led by General Aksara Kerdphol, former advisory chief of the army.
The other two proposals are: improvement of the quality of life of people in the restive region and access to judicial process which is acceptable by both sides.
The government has insisted that the proposed "safety zones" concept is a process of mutual trust building between the conflicting parties and also a process to test the ability of the respective parties whether either of them can control violent incidents in the zones or not. Or, in other words, to prove whether Mara Patani really represents the separatist groups and have the real say in the region.
Earlier in 2010 during the government of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a separatist group known as the Patani Malay Liberation Movement led by Gustury Mahgota unilaterally declared a ceasefire but the group’s gesture was dismissed by the government then as lacking credibility.
During the peace talks between the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the BRN separatist group led by Hassan Taib, the separatist unilaterally announced the reduction of violence during the fasting month of Ramadan in 2013. But the announcement proved to be a fiasco as violent incidents still occurred.
If the "safety zones" proposal can be successfully implemented, it will mark a significant step forward for both sides in the search for a peaceful solution to the protracted unrest problem.
Another important movement in the Deep South is the formation of a new local-level coordinating committee by the forward command of the Internal Security Operations Command.
The new committee comprises 28 members led by the commander of the 4th army region in his capacity as the local ISOC chief. Other committee members include representatives from the civic groups and academia such as Dr Krongchai Hattha, a wellknown historian.
The coordinating committee’s main task is to build up an environment in the region which is conducive to peace talks, to coordinate between the government and the other societal sectors and to explore communication channels between the government and separatist groups.
However, Mara Patani has issued a statement dismissing Isranews reports about the safety zones being agreed to be set up as groundless.
"Mara Pattani" wishes to stress that the reports are untrue and baseless and that the matter was never discussed at all on or off the dialogue table during those two days( on November 11-12).
We opine that it was deliberately schemed by certain parties with a hidden agenda to jeopardize the newly resumed peace dialogue process.
"Mara Patani" wishes to clarify that, up to the moment, the peace dialogue process is still at the confidence building stage and informal. Thus any important issues, including the establishment of safety zones will not be discussed until the process is formal," said the statement which was signed by ustaz Muhamad Shukri Hari, head of peace dialogue panel.