Mahathir: Talk with exiled South leaders
Published on Feb 01, 2007
- They could provide a breakthrough with militants, he says
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad urged the Thai government to resume dialogue with exiled leaders from the Malay-speaking region in the country's deep South, saying any breakthrough could pave the way for the new generation of militants to follow them.
Speaking to Nation Channel's Thep-chai Yong over the weekend, Mahathir said it would be a mistake to sideline the long-standing groups, including the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), and the Barisan Islam Pembebasan Patani (BIPP).
"They told me they understand that they cannot expect independence - they cannot expect autonomy. But they want to see their part of Thailand given the same treatment as other parts of Thailand," Mahathir said.
"In other words, they want to see development, they want to see their people educated, they want to see their people employed, business being done in the South, like in other parts of Thailand, which seems to be progressing faster," he said.
Mahathir said the exiled leaders could help convince the new generation of militants on the ground as to "how far they can go, what they can get, and to accept that there are things they can change and things they cannot change".
However, "there will always young leaders and extreme leaders on the fringes" who refuse to sign up to these ideas, he warned.
Thai security officials believe the new generation of militants are organised into small cells throughout the South, but the nature of their relations with the long standing groups is still not clear to them.
Mahathir had helped facilitate a series of meetings between the old guard and senior Thai officials on the island of Langkawi from October 2005 to February 2006.
"I never thought this was going to be easy. But it is not entirely impossible to resolve this provided there is willingness on both sides to see the other side's viewpoint," Mahathir said, adding he would be willing to assist in future dialogue if asked, but stated he has no initiative in the pipeline at the moment.
Thai officials and exiled leaders said the Langkawi meetings were not formal negotiations but a confidence-building measure to identify common ground for the two sides. A set of recommendations for future talks was given to the Bangkok government in February 2006 - but Thaksin had shelved it.
But with a new government in place, officials in Bangkok said a new round of talks is being proposed, but this time around, Kuala Lumpur is expected to have a direct role in facilitating the discussion, officials said.
Mahathir said the Langkawi talks were conducted when Thaksin Shinawatra was in power and that the policy of the former Thai premier, who was ousted in a coup last September, may not have been the best for the South.
"Thaksin was a businessman. Business is about winning. You can't win that way in that kind of situation," Mahathir said.
Mahathir said Malaysia was not a staging ground for attacks in southern Thailand and said that ethnic Malays from southern Thailand are permitted to live in Malaysia.
"So long as they are not actively responsible for acts of terror in Thailand they are welcome to stay here."
He said the instability in southern Thailand was a concern for Malaysia because many people living along the common border are relatives.
He called Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont's apology for heavy-handed tactics by the previous Thai governments on the south, and specifically the death of nearly 80 unarmed demonstrators in Tak Bai district in late 2004, "a very good move".
"If only Thaksin [Shinawatra] had done this in the beginning, we could have avoided such bloodshed. It is such a simple thing to say… and it doesn't make you smaller in any way by saying sorry," Mahathir said.
The interview will be broadcast on "Siam This Morning" on TV5 at 6.15 am today and re-run on February 5 on World Beat with Suthichai Yoon (Cheep Pa Jon Lok) on Modern 9 at 10pm.