Thursday, July 17, 2008

Patani - Claim of peace rejected

Army, Pulo cast doubt on breakthrough after '100 years of violence'

The Thai Army chief and leaders of Malay Muslim separatist groups distanced themselves yesterday from an announcement by the self-proclaimed spokesman of 11 "underground" separatist groups that the 100-year-old insurgency in the troubled South had come to an end.

Kasturi Mahkota, foreign affairs chief of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), said he was unaware of the affiliation of the three men whose videotaped statement was aired on Army-run Channel 5, during which they declared that the struggle was over.

General Anupong Paochinda identified the self-proclaimed leader as Malipeng Khan, a former separatist leader who was active from 1984-87 and who tried but failed to unify various insurgent factions.

But an Army intelligence officer who claimed he met Malipeng in Egypt and Syria about a decade ago cast doubt on whether it was him or his brother Shamsudin as the person had dyed hair and a fake moustache.

Chettha Thanajaro, a former Army chief and defence minister, claimed to have brokered the "breakthrough" in the armed conflict with the help of unnamed foreign countries and international agencies.

"From July 14 onwards, all the militant and political units of our group will support peace formation in Thailand," said the group's leader, who did not give his name.

He said any unit failing to abide by the decision would be considered renegade and that measures would be taken to "eliminate" it. In the background was a flag that other separatist and exiled leaders said was unfamiliar to them.

Kasturi said Pulo was looking into the matter and declined to say if the footage was a hoax.

Other separatist leaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, raised similar questions about the broadcast, saying it was unlikely the separatist movements in the deep South, or anywhere else for that matter, would lay down their weapons unconditionally after nearly a century of struggle.

And if the ceasefire does not come through, Chettha could conveniently put the blame on the separatist movements on the ground, they said.

Exiled and official sources said discussions between the Thai Army and the separatist movements had been conducted quietly with the help of international mediators but that at the current stage were not considered formal "negotiations".

Kasturi said as far as he was concerned: "Nothing has changed, and the dialogue with the Thai authorities is still in the pipeline."

Speaking to a group of reporters later in the afternoon, Chettha, leader of the Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana Party, a minor member of the governing six-party coalition, appeared to retreat from his earlier stance.

He said he was not entirely sure of the standing of the three men who appeared in the videotape but maintained the announcement was not bogus.

"I would not have been the only one fooled," he said.

Chettha said his associates told him the three men, whom he declined to name, were the actual leaders of the separatist movements.

When asked to explain why the bomb attacks on police headquarters in Yala and Pattani took place on the day when the ceasefire was to come into effect, namely July 14, Chetta said the movement's command/control/communications system was not as efficient as the Army's.

"They need time to get the word out to their men on the ground," Chetta said.

By Don Pathan
The Nation
Published on July 18, 2008

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