KUALA LUMPUR: Efforts to find peace in southern Thailand have been thrown into disarray following the decision by the dialogue panel of Majlis Syura Patani (Mara Patani) to suspend all peace dialogue meetings with the Thai government.
Its head of dialogue panel, Shukri Hari, said the decision to suspend the talks, until after the conclusion of the country’s March general election, followed the group’s disappointment with the attitude shown by the head of Thai peace panel General Udomchai Thammasarorat.
“Both Mara Patani and the Thai dialogue teams arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 2 for the introductory meeting. However, we were informed that the head of the Thai (government) panel, General Udomchai, would not attend the meeting. He would only meet me personally and separately.
“We are disappointed with General Udomchai’s attitude, which contradicts his earlier statement that he would hold dialogue and respect all groups and stakeholders,” Shukri said in a statement to Bernama last night.
Mara Patani, according to Shukri, sees Udomchai’s refusal to confront the group’s dialogue panel as unacceptable and suspected ‘a hidden agenda’.
He said the group also called on the Thai government to replace Udomchai with someone ‘more credible’ in order to find solutions to the long-running conflict in Pattani.
Udomchai was recently appointed by Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha (photo, above) to spearhead the southern Thai peace talks, in place of longtime negotiator General Aksara Kerdphol.
The introductory meeting, which was supposed to take place yesterday, was arranged by the new Malaysian facilitator to the peace talks, former inspector-general of police Abdul Rahim Noor.
The former top cop was appointed to the post by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Mara Patani also did not attend yesterday’s introductory meeting, which, if realised as scheduled, would signify their first official meeting after several months.
The group is an umbrella body representing several southern Thai groups.
Since it erupted in 2004, the low-intensity conflict grappling the four southern Thai provinces namely Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkla, had claimed more than 6,500 lives.