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Asean Affairs  4  March 2011

Discussions may end southern Thai impasse

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     4 March 2011

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There may be a glimmer of hope in resolving the long-running Thai Muslim insurgency in the south of the country, according to a news story in The Straits Times newspaper.

The reports says that one-day talks between Malay Muslim separatists and representatives of the Thai government, including a Thai army general, will be held outside of Thailand at an unnamed location.

The insurgency in the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani and part of Songkhla has left more than 4,000 dead since it resumed in 2004. The The article quotes Kasturi Mahkota, foreign affairs chief of the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), who will participate in the talks,” The RTG (Royal Thai Government) has recognised the partners it has to talk to. This process started in 2005, but it has always been a closed process; now we hope it will be more open. But it is better that we go slow on the agenda; the second stage will be political solutions.”

He also noted that the presence of an Army general was a significant symbolic sign and the talks will also involve an unnamed NGO.

In the article, Kasturi said there were no preconditions for the talks but demands would include a degree of demilitarisation in the south, an end to arbitrary detentions by security agencies, and immunity from prosecution for individuals involved in the peace process. Kasturi resides in Sweden.

This year in the south there have been at least 19 killings including Thai teachers and soldiers and there have also been major bombings. Although the Thai government has claimed “progress” in the area, this year’s incidents, including an attack on a Thai army base, contradict this view. Those behind the violence have remained largely anonymous. Although incomes have improved in the region and the Thai government has poured in money to boost the economy, poverty remains an issue. This is compounded by religious and linguistic differences. Thailand is a largely Buddhist country, while most of the country’s Muslims live in the south.

The Thai response to the southern insurgency has frequently been mishandled due to human rights abuses, friction between the Thai police and the Thai military and corruption in the Thai police force.

The results of the one-day talks will be eagerly awaited.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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