Philippine-style talks 'not suited' to South
Lack of MILF-style command to talk with, presence of drugs and other factors 'make autonomy deal unlikely'Thai security experts are reluctant to apply the "Philippine model" to Thailand's Muslim insurgency in the deep South, saying the two countries' separatist problems have their own peculiarities.
The experts told The Nation that key differences between Thailand and the Philippines included the countries' political systems and the fact that there seemed to be no real established leadership of the Thai insurgency.
After 15 years of continuous and all-encompassing negotiations, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have announced a consensus on a framework for peace. The plan calls for the establishment of a 15-member Transition Commission, which will thrash out the details of the agreement and draft a law creating the "Bangsamoro" entity in the next two years.
The agreement combines respect for religious and cultural identity and a self-driven economic approach with the need to preserve a unified Philippines where the central government will keep hold of responsibility for security, defence, foreign policy, and monetary and citizenship affairs.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, an expert in international relations and national security, said Thailand's political environment would make creating a special, self-governing, semi-autono-mous zone extremely difficult. But first of all, Panitan said, negotiations must start between those who matter.
"It took the Philippines some 20 years, but even [in the beginning] the Philippine authorities knew whom to talk to," Panitan said. He added that whereas the MILF was already quite established when the Philippine talks began, the Thai insurgents seemed still to be in the stage of cementing their presence.
"In problems like this, the insurgents' first step is to make their presence felt, then they can mount pressure for real negotiations." Panitan pointed out that while the Thai government has agencies ready for possible, first-stage talks, it was not easy to pinpoint who on the insurgency side has the authority to represent the entire movement.
Colonel Thiranand Nanthakwan, a military expert, agreed, saying opening talks that might touch upon the creation of a special self-governing zone was "very, very sensitive in Thailand".
"The Philippine government knew whom they had to talk to. The insurgency there was a long-established organisation and they knew exactly what they wanted and the government knew exactly what the insurgents wanted. Here we have a combination of groups, of factors like drugs and parties wanting to take advantage," Thiranand said.
According to Thiranand, what has confounded Thai authorities is the insurgents' absolute lack of desire to be popular with the locals. Extreme use of intimidation and terror has been the norm, raising fears that the insurgents are functioning in cells independent of one another. Thiranand noted that the terrorist attacks were continuing in some areas while "surrenders" were taking place elsewhere in the region.
Meanwhile, a senior Thai military source said that not only were Thai authorities monitoring the Philippine model with interest, but the Thai insurgents must also be doing the same thing.
Echoing Panitan and Thiranand, the source said the chances of granting semi-autonomy were slim, because "we are still not convinced the problem will end there".