SOMETHING is seriously out of tune in diplomatic ties between Bangkok and Jakarta, and the ongoing insurgency in the deep South of Thailand is to blame.
The Thai government was quick to distance itself from so-called secret talks in Bogor between a group of ageing Patani Malay exiles and Thai delegates led by Kwanchart Klaharn, a senior security adviser to the People Power Party.
Indonesian State Secretary Hatta Radjasa said Indonesia was considered an experienced mediator and that the gathering was a "wish that their efforts would end the conflict".
The Bogor meeting was facilitated by Indonesia's Vice President Yussuf Kalla, known to some in diplomatic circles as "Mr Let's Make a Deal".
It appears that the meeting was supposed to be secret in nature. But once the Indonesian media broke the story over the weekend, the people in Kalla's camp wasted no time in milking the situation. Photographs appeared of a majestic-looking Kalla sat between the two warring parties. The man was in his element, indeed. No one seems to care what this will do to Thai-Indonesian relations.
Over the past two years, there have been a number of meetings between self-proclaimed Patani Malay leaders and so-called representative from Thailand, official and semi-official. Most, if not all, of these meetings were secret in nature but some details were leaked to the media, only to be played down by the Thai government.
Because of the absence of a unified position on either the Thai or the exiled separatists' sides, these talks were ad hoc in nature, having no effect on policy change. If anything, the meetings have become intelligence-gathering exercises for the participants. This is not to mention the per diems and free trips abroad.
One only has to look at the fiasco in July when former Army chief General Chetta Thanajaro claimed to have succeeded in getting an unnamed underground separatist group to announce an end to the century-old insurgency.
The public didn't even give the former chief the benefit of the doubt by waiting to see if the violence ended as he stated it would. People immediately called it a hoax. And the violence continues unabated.
Just last weekend, former premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh also made a similar claim - that the level of violence will begin a sharp decline starting on October 13, and by December 5 it will come to a complete stop.
As with Chetta, no one has given a hoot about this announcement.
But this is not to say that all of the encounters between separatist leaders and Thai authorities have been fruitless.
The Thai government has been in constructive dialogue with leaders of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo) and Barian Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate over the past two years, and in December 2007 then prime minister Surayud Chulanont met with the two groups in Bahrain.
But this fledging process needs stronger political backing.
Ethnic Malay participants at the Bogor talks called themselves the Consultative Council of the Patani Malay People. The delegates were made up of former members of the now-defunct Bersatu, whose former leader Wan Kadir Che Man is said to have declined an offer to take part in Kalla's dialogue process.
Pulo's foreign affairs chief Kasturi Mahkota said his group had pulled out of Kalla's process, saying it didn't have anything new to offer. "It wasn't serious," Kasturi said.
But given the option between talking and not talking, one would think that a dialogue is better than no dialogue at all," said a Bangkok-based diplomat.
But then again, these dialogues - especially those that organisers tend to milk for public relations purposes - could prove to be damaging.
If anything, they could derail the more meaningful processes, such as the one pushed through by Surayud.
But instead of picking up where Surayud left off, the previous government of Samak Sundaravej didn't want to be bothered at all with the conflict in the deep South - in spite of the fact that more than 3,300 people have been killed since January 2004.
In March this year, Samak delegated his authority as the director of the Internal Security Operation Command to Anupong, effectively making Anupong the security tsar overseeing military and civilian affairs in the restive region. But like others before him, Anupong knows that it is too costly politically to push through any bold initiative, even the one that Surayud had started.
Deep-seated issues such as Patani Malay cultural space and the sticky issue of identity are being discussed in seminars, but that's about it.
It is very unlikely that the outcome from these talks will be a win-win scenario for the two opposing parties as has been suggested by some mediators and facilitators. The bottom line is what kind of concessions the Patani Malays and the Thai state are willing to make.