“I think it is right for the government to go to see the people, to talk to the people, communicate, but it’s not enough to solve the problem,” said Wan Kadir.
“You really have to sit down with the leaders who create the problem – a separate meeting, you have to sit down and talk to those leaders and ask them and you can give them what they want.
“You try to give them what they want; you cannot give then you say so but as far as I know, the government as of now does not make that approach in the south for these negotiations – forget about even negotiations, to even make a talk with the separatists. [They] only go to talk to the public.”
However, Wan Kadir, who is also president of the armed separatist group Barisan Islam Pembangunan Pattani or BIPP, said talks with the various groups in the south would not be easy.
“Of course you cannot go straight to the people who are fighting now, but you can go to their leaders, and then gradually go to those groups,” he said.
The Bersatu organisation consists of three groups: BIPP, Pattani United Liberation Organisation and Barisan Revolusi Nasional – Coordinate.
The Barisan Revolusi Nasional – Congress (BRN-Congress) just left Bersatu.
Wan Kadir said of BRN-Congress’s exit:
“The Muslim want to retain their identity as Malay Muslim, they do not want to be assimilated to be Thai”
Wan Kadir Che Wan, president of Bersatu
“Maybe they disagree; we are willing to compromise, we are willing to talk to the Thai government, we are willing to negotiate. Some of those groups do not believe that, the government is our enemy. They may think I am not effective anymore but they should change the leader rather than get out if they think that I am not effective anymore.”
Dissension within Bersatu began after Mahathir Mohamad, the former Malaysian prime minister, and Shazryl Eskay Abdullah, Thailand’s honorary consul on Langkawi island in Malaysia, began speaking with various armed groups that wanted to end the violence to work out a strategy for peace.
After being endorsed by King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand, Mahathir and his son Mukhriz, along with Shazryl negotiated a peace plan which was agreed to by all main armed groups in south Thailand.
As Wan Kadir noted: “The majority of the people feel very doubtful that separation – complete separation – is possible.
“Therefore they think they should be other way, compromise, so that they can have certain things for Muslims, especially the identity, the main thing.
“The Muslim want to retain their identity as Malay Muslim, they do not want to be assimilated to be Thai. The Thai government I think does not understand that, they think that assimilation is good … for Malay areas, assimilation is almost impossible because they have separate history … and they are proud of their Islamic achievement in the area and therefore it is very difficult to assimilate.”
The plan was submitted to the Thaksin government in August but no action was taken.
Following Thaksin’s ouster in September and the declaration by General Sondhi Boonyarataglin, the coup leader, that he was committed to a peaceful settlement in the south, many of these groups were hoping that the plan would be quickly endorsed by the generals in Bangkok.
But the Thai government has yet to commit to it.
|Dozens of civilians have been killed
and wounded in the past week
Wan Kadir says that unless the Thai government is willing to use the Mahathir peace plan as a basis for negotiations, things will go back to square one.
Many of the armed groups, including the Bersatu organisation, want to end the troubles but without serious negotiations, the problems will continue, says Wan Kadir.
“The main point is the government has to make an effort to go to see [the leaders] to talk to them. Talk to them seriously and secretly, not open. When openly, they don’t really reveal the real thing… The main thing is the government must be honest, the government must be determined to solve this problem.”
However, Wan Kadir says that although the groups under Bersatu are willing to negotiate, many of the recent bombings in the south are the result of new, younger fighters who are not so accommodating.
“This new generation of people, they are very young and they are very determined … the old generation can compromise but this new generation seems to still want independence.
“Not only independence but they want to establish an Islamic state of Pattani.”
Dozens of civilians have been killed and injured in just the past week in the southern provinces as attacks continue unabated.
Wan Kadir says the new groups responsible for much of the violence are unwilling to talk to the government because they believe they are winning in their attacks against Thai military targets. Wan Kadir says they are well-armed and funded. More importantly, they have an insider.
“As far as I understand … they have been collecting the weapons for a long time in preparation and also the money … so this is not just accident, this is a planning … the main advantage of this situation is that … they are inside the Thai government itself so they know many things.”
Wan Kadir admits that many of the activities of these younger groups are facilitated by groups such as al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah or JI which now has a presence in the south.
“I think that many of the group are there but maybe they are not directly involved.”
The veteran fighter says that it is almost impossible for the government to begin negotiating with these younger fighters but holding talks with older groups such as Bersatu would provide the Thai military with a good opening.
Regardless of who the generals speak to, they must be sincere, he says.
“Do not treat the Muslim in the south as colonial subjects … because we feel that the Thais are treating us like colonial subjects… If you treat us that way, it is not going to be peaceful. You have to treat us as citizens of Thailand. We don’t want any more than that. We don’t want special treatment … we just want them to treat us the same as other people in the country. We are below, not above the law.”