The U.S. State Department has followed up on its controversial proposal to take Malaysia off its blacklist of countries failing to combat modern-day slavery, leaving it open to criticism that politics is swaying the often-contentious rankings in its annual human trafficking report. Read more...
BANGKOK, 27 July 2015: Thailand’s Cabinet approved, last Tuesday, a reciprocal agreement with Myanmar to allow visa-free visits by passport holding citizens of both countries for up to 14 days. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Thanasak Patimakorn, is tasked with signing the agreement later this week in Chiang Mai. An agreement for mutual visa-free […] Read more...
BANGKOK, 27 July 2015: THAI will provide roundtrip flights for Thai Muslims joining the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. The flights will facilitate travel from Narathiwat in the deep south to Medina, Saudi Arabia and Hat Yai to Medina, Saudi Arabia. Flight departures are set for 16 to 22 August outbound and return flights from […] Read more...
BANGKOK, 27 July 2015: To mark THAI and Tourism Authority of Thailand’s 55th anniversaries, this year, the national airline hosed 100 children on flights to Bangkok in a project shared with the national tourist office. It was part of the airline’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme that offered three-day field trips, 21 to 23 July, to children living […] Read more...
On the face of it, the Thai junta’s attempts to limit the sale of alcohol around schools and universities is laudable. The reality, however, could see hundreds of bars and restaurants being put out of business in the coming weeks if authorities refuse to backtrack. Read more...
Asaree Thaitrakulpanich and Thaweeporn Kummetha
We just need faith, and soon everything will be back to normal, like it was before.
 
Near the end of Latitude No. 6, a music video montage of the main characters overlaid with this song suddenly jumps out at the audience. This song from Latitude No. 6, a film sponsored by the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), could have been written by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. Of course, the NCPO song explicitly asked for faith in the military, while Latitude No. 6 attempts to be more subtle in its message by over-cloying it with unimpressive romantic plots.
 
Director Thanadol Nualsuth collaborated with UCI Media to produce Latitude No. 6. In it, a half-white Bangkokian (Peter Corp Dyrendal) goes to Patani with his niece (Shinardi Anupongpichak) because of his job at the Islamic Bank of Thailand. He falls in love with a Muslim woman (Prissana Kumpusiri), daughter of a Muslim teacher. Meanwhile, a teenage love triangle develops between a Buddhist girl (Weeraporn Jirawechsuntorngul) and two Muslim boys (Natcha Jantapan, Pakin Buansirilak). This subplot turns out much less interesting than it sounds.
 
Just three days before the film’s premiere on June 26, Dyrendal’s wife posted a plea on Instagram, asking her husband to come home after he had run off with another woman. The public expressed outrage at this, some pledging to boycott Latitude No. 6. In response, a deputy director of ISOC expressed concern that the scandal of Peter’s promiscuity would affect filmgoers’ perception of “unity” in the film. Wow, another “national unity” propaganda film! We haven’t seen that before! 
 
Even with on-site filming in Pattani, Latitude No. 6 is problematic because it fails to accurately address the root of the violence in the Deep South. Instead, it relegates the conflict to an ever-present, random bomb threat that affects both Muslims and Buddhists. In this respect, at least, it is a step forward from the Thai mainstream media’s portrayals of mustachioed Muslim Malay “bandits” as being the only perpetrators of violence.
 
However, the absence of negatively-stereotyped Muslims and the portrayal of insurgents as faceless do not excuse the fact that the military, another trouble-maker in the Deep South, is shown in purely positive terms. 
 
The soldiers in the film are jolly men who find lost children, visit wounded bomb victims, sacrifice their lives defusing a bomb, patrol for the safety of villagers, exchange jokes with locals, and help construct a mosque. The human rights crimes committed by the Thai military and discrimination by the Thai state are definitely not addressed in the film. 
 
The film misrepresents the conflict as religious and ignores the actual cause which is the struggle of the Patani people under the rule of Siam. It tells the audience that yes, love and friendship cross religious lines. It also shows the very barest elements of Malay culture. In many respects, Latitude No. 6 is a flimsy travel brochure full of doctored photos
 
As a Thai movie, we can expect that the characters in Latitude No.6, supposedly Muslim Malay, are not played by Malay-looking actors, and therefore, do not speak local Malay dialect in the film. Even worse, some of the Muslim characters speak Thai with southerners’ dialect, aka thong daeng. It shows that the filmmakers didn’t spend time with the Malay people long enough. If the Muslim Malay in the Deep south want to speak Thai, they speak it like Bangkok people.
 
The lack of local representation is reminiscent of mid-century Westerns, where both cowboys and “Indians” were played by white actors and actresses, and the real issues of the “frontier” were pushed aside for shallow displays aimed at portraying different cultures as a spectacle.
 
However, Latitude No. 6 does address the irrational fear of Thais from outside the region towards the area. In one scene the main character mistakenly assumes a Muslim man’s wooden box is a bomb, and dives for cover. The box is actually a violin case. 
 
Latitude No. 6 does an impersonation of a warm, feeling movie, but is actually as unfeeling and callous as the title itself. To the filmmaker, Latitude No. 6 is just a line on a map, that when sliced, offers some pretty shots. Pretty shots are as deep as it goes, and the truth about the conflict is just covered up with 120 minutes of cringe-worthy, cheesy fluff and cardboard dialogue. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Read related stories:
 
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John Draper

A recent piece of investigative journalism by The Bangkok Post has provided evidence of Thailand acquiring an advanced electronic surveillance capability. Traditionally a non-NATO treaty ally of the United States, Thailand has provided high-level intelligence to the United States, as the Wikileaks Cablegate Thailand cables made clear. In exchange, Thailand was likely able to rely on obtaining intelligence from the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-gathering network consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, especially regarding areas of shared concern, for example, the situation in the Deep South or high-value targets.

However, the breakdown of relations with the United States around the end of last year, culminating in the statements made by US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel in January 2015, clearly posed a dilemma for Thailand: how to obtain a reliable surveillance state capability equivalent to that of a more advanced country. Thailand would have faced only two choices.

The first was to source a cooperative solution from a major power such as Russia, home to Kaspersky Labs, which is rumored to possess close links to the KGB, or from the People’s Republic of China. However, Thailand is not a traditional ally of either, and the prospect of introducing advanced Russian or Chinese e-warfare capabilities into Thai security apparatus facilities may have posed a greater threat than the advantages. This possibility of a compromised intelligence network including command and control facilities may also be a reason for the delay in purchasing the three Chinese submarines.

The second option would have been to source an advanced electronic surveillance suite from off-the-shelf vendors operating in a murky legal environment where such software can be classified as ‘military equipment’. Like many other countries developing towards an advanced police state, including the usual suspects Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, Thailand apparently chose this option, becoming by December 2014 the customer of the now notorious Hacking Team, a Milan-based information technology developer of intrusion and surveillance capabilities. This development was practically announced in February 2015, when the Thai military advertised the recruitment of officers to join a new ‘Cyber Warfare’ unit under the Directorate of Joint Operations of the Royal Thai Armed forces.

Hacking Team’s main product is the Remote Control System ‘Galileo’. However, the Hacking Team was itself hacked on July 5, 2015, revealing all its internal emails and source code, which The Bangkok Post has partially analysed from the Wikileaks site.

Figure 1: Part of (the Heavily Compromised) Hacking Team’s Presentation

The Wikileaks Hacking Team data for Thailand shows Hacking Team’s software suite was acquired by the Royal Thai Army and the Corrections Department of the Royal Thai Police in cooperation with Israel-based Nice Systems and partner Thai firms Placing Value, Netsurplus and Samart Comtech.

The suite includes all the capabilities you might expect from an advanced intelligence agency. These include the ability to covertly collect emails, text messages, and phone call histories; perform keystroke logging; uncover search history data and take screenshots; record audio from phone calls; use phones to collect noise and conversations by remotely switching on the telephone; activate the telephone’s camera; and hijack telephones GPS systems. The Remote Control Software (RCS) was capable of utilizing a number of known and ‘Zero-Day’ (unknown to anti-virus companies and previously unused) hacking exploits against software including Adobe Flash.

Companies such as Hacking Team have been heavily criticized for selling hacking software to repressive governments, such as Sudan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. In particular, Hacking Team sold software to Sudan in 2012, which led it to being investigated by the United Nations Panel on Experts for the Sudan for infringing a UN prohibition on selling “‘military … equipment’ or ‘assistance’ related to prohibited items” according to UN Security Council resolutions 1556 (2004) and 1591 (2005). Hacking Team’s response was to evade questions.

The RCS has been detected by counter-intrusion experts on the software of activists and journalists, perhaps one of the purposes behind its purchase by the Royal Thai Army Military Intelligence Command. 

Figure 2: Suspected Government Users of Hacking Team Software

The development of military-grade e-warfare/surveillance state capabilities in a free and democratic country can be justified only if there exists a regulatory framework. For example, Malaysia is also apparently a client of Hacking Team, as is South Korea, but both have civilian governments and regulatory frameworks regarding national security. However, Thailand possesses a weak framework, as The Bangkok Post makes clear in quotes sourced from the leaked Hacking Team emails: Thailand is “characterised by poor legislation and no LEA [law enforcement agency] or intelligence connectivity to telecom service providers".

This means that there is a legal vacuum and the Royal Thai Army at present does not have the capability to directly interface with approximately 10 internet gateways provided by telecommunications operators in the same way as the US did via the NSA Warrantless Surveillance Program (2001-2007) and successor programs, which Congress has recently begun to roll back. However, according to The Bangkok Post, Thailand’s military government is introducing legislation, the proposed Cyber Security Bill, designed to permit much broader warrantless application of electronic surveillance (under Section 35). And, one stated goal of the military government is a single gateway to the internet based in Bangkok, which would facilitate the development of the surveillance state.

The Bangkok Post notes that National Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Niran Pitakwatcharahas has come out against the use of electronic intelligence and e-warfare against Thai citizens:  "It is a violation of democratic principles, in which the state does not have the right to threaten the privacy of individuals… Thailand needs to be aware that it is at risk of violating the right to privacy and freedom of expression, under the disguise of 'national security' concerns…” Crucially, Dr. Niran argues that there is a need to differentiate between the needs of the state and the needs of the government. However, under Thailand’s military governments there has traditionally been no distinction between the two.

It has been noted that unrestricted electronic mass surveillance creates a ‘Culture of Fear’ among the citizenry in countries which have implemented advanced electronic intelligence and surveillance operations in an arbitrary and unchecked manner. Unfortunately, at present Thailand under Section 44 (a ‘Rule by Diktat’ provision in the present Interim Charter) does operate in such an atmosphere. Electronic mass surveillance can target both schoolchildren and adults, as detailed in the US 2014 Human Rights Report on Thailand and discussed here.

Also, the advanced e-warfare options offered by software such as the RCS offer the capability to spy on any citizen at any time without the citizen even being aware – a development of the advanced police state known as ‘panopticism’ and described in the novel 1984. It should be noted that 1984 cannot be read in public in Thailand. And, now, perhaps, we know another reason why. 

Figure 3: The ‘1984’ Panopticon Effect – Users of Smart Phones Are Similar to Prisoners

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A high-school executive has scolded a grade 12 student activist who refused to take a Civic Duty class exam as being mentally ill while an education minister told media not to pay much attention about her.

According to Matichon Newspaper 23 July 2015 Issue, one of the executives of Triam Udom Suksa School in central Bangkok told the media that Nattanan Warintarawet, aka. Nice, an outspoken anti-coup student activist at the school, is mentally ill.

Matichon reported that the unidentified school executive said that Nattanan’s condition has not been treated properly for the last two years. The school staff added that the student’s parents asked the school to take care of her and teach her as normal students.

The statement from the school executive was made after Nattanan on 20 July 2015 submitted an empty exam paper on Civic Duty Class and wrote on her facebook profile that she rejected the do the exam because the subject forces narrow mindset upon people.

She also wrote on her facebook profile a statement to Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, saying that her action is an act of civil disobedience against the authorities because Civic Duty class is forced upon students by the dictatorial regime of the junta.

“Civic duty class is a subject that the dictatorial regime forced upon us. It forces a narrow mindset and denies the freedom of thoughts which is crucial for democracy,” wrote Nattanan.

Nattanan Warintarawet (second right), along with the Education for Liberation of Siam (ELS) members, reads statement against the nationalistic 12-Thai values in front of the Ministry of Education last year.

According to the student, the first question of Civic Duty exam paints the picture of the 14 anti-junta activists recently released most of whom are students as threats to Thai identity while the second question also equate people who supported the activists as harmful to ‘Thainess’ as well.

“The determination of people who were calling for the release of [the 14 activists] is downgraded to one of the wrong choices in the exam as it is not fostering Thai identities,” the student added in her message to the PM.

In her statement, Nattanan also criticised the nationalistic 12 Thai values, definitions of good citizens that the junta laid out after the coup, as hypocritical and manipulative since the junta themselves came to power by illegitimate means.

She added that there are many positive aspects of Civic Duty lessons and the 12 Thai values. However, she is against the manipulation of a narrow mindset through educational system and the fact that the junta is imposing its own definitions of ‘goodness’ upon others.

On Friday, 24 July 2015, Nattanan posted another statement on her facebook profile saying that she does not want an apology from the teacher who claimed that she was mentally ill. She also urged that people should not blame other teachers of Triam Udom Suksa School who are not involved in the event.

On Thursday, Adm Narong Pipattanasai, Minister of Education, told media when asked about Nattanan’s civil disobedience that the media should not make a big deal out of the matter since she is only one of 10 million other students in the nation.       

Nattanan is a former Secretary-General of Education for Liberation of Siam (ELS), a progressive student activist group who have been campaigning for the Thai education reform.

In December 2014, she was invited to talk in a program called ‘Investigating Hot Issues’ on the Army’s Channel 5, but was removed out of the program after she raised questions about the legitimacy of the May 2014 coup d’état with a member of the junta’s appointed National Reform Council.

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BANGKOK, 24 July 2015: Two of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s campaign commercials have won awards at the recent Pacific Asia Travel Association’s annual PATA Gold Awards. The viral hit “I Hate Thailand” took home a Gold Award for marketing in the social media category, while a second PATA Gold Award went to the “Discover […] Read more...

A large crowd gathered in downtown Bangkok to protest the government’s plan to build a coal-fired power plant in a touristic southern province on the Andaman Coast.

On Thursday afternoon, 23 July 2015, about 300 people gathered in front of the Government House in Bangkok to urge the military government to halt a plan to build a coal-fired power plant and a pier to transport coal in the southern province of Krabi.

The crowd comprised many Krabi natives, environmental activists from Save Andaman from Coal network, and entrepreneurs of the tourism industry of the province, including, others. 

They demanded that the ongoing process to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) on the project should be halted.

Moreover, the group requested the government to call off the planned state auction on the coal-fired power plant project next month and that the authorities should form a committee to study the feasibility of other sustainable ways to generate energy.

Anti-coal-fired power plant gatherers stayed in front of the Government House until the evening on Thursday.

Before the crowd dispersed, a military officer who claimed to be an advisor to Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, told the protesters that the PM has agreed to follow their demands. However, there was no official confirmation from the authorities.

The group and relevant state officials are expected to meet on Friday morning to draft a formal agreement regarding the project.    

On the same day, activists from Youth People for Social Democracy Movement, Thailand (YPD) issued a statement to support the anti-coal power plant protesters.

In the YPD’s statement titled ‘Against Coal-fired Power Plant in the Country and Support Alternative Energy Sources’, the youth activists said they are concerned about the lack of public participation and consultations on the project.

“The integrity of environment and clean air are public property that no one can claim and destroy,” said the YPD’s statement.

Since early 2014, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) proposed to build a controversial 60 billion baht (about USD 1.8 billion) coal-fired power plant with 870 megawatts (MW) capacity and a coal seaport adjacent to it in Nuea Khlong District of Krabi Province.     

The plan is viewed favourably by the junta. However, it has been heavily criticised by many environmental groups and local residents who fear the environmental impact from the plant. According to Gen Prayut, the power plant will guarantee Thailand’s energy security.

People who are against the coal fired power plant project gathered in front of the Government House on 23 July 2015  

 

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A provincial court in northern Thailand sentenced three anti-establishment red shirts to three-years imprisonment each with the jail term suspended for hanging a banner with a message deemed seditious.

On 22 July 2015, the Provincial Court of the northern province of Chiang Rai sentenced Odd Suktako, Tanomsri Namrat, and Suksiam Jamtan, three red shirts from Mae Saruay District of Chiang Rai to four years in jail each under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, Thailand sedition law, for hanging a banner with the message viewed as sedition.

The court, however, reduced the jail term to three years because the defendants were cooperative during the trials and the jail term was suspended for five years.   

The police issued the arrest warrants against the three on 13 June 2014, but they were later released on bail. The prosecutors indicted them under Article 116 for hanging a banner on the pedestrian bridge in Muang District of Chiang Rai with a message reads “These is no justice in this country, we should be separated as Lanna State” (Lanna is an ancient name of the Northern Kingdoms of Thailand) on 26 February 2014 .

According to the verdict, it was clear that the three were among six individuals who put up the seditious banner on the pedestrian bridge from the CCTV video footage.

The judges ruled that the message on the banner stirred up social and political conflicts among people given the political circumstance then.

The court added that the claim of the suspects that there is no justice in the country after the criminal court in early 2014 rejected to grant arrest warrants against the key leaders of the anti-election People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters was false.

The judges of the provincial court further stated that by expressing such claims, the defendants also insulted the Criminal Court’s ruling to deny the arrest of the PDRC leaders then.              

Article 116 of the Criminal Code states that whoever makes apparent to the public by words, writing or any other means anything which is not an act within the purpose of the constitution or which is not the expression of an honest opinion or criticism (a) in order to bring about a change in the laws or the government by the use of coercion or violence, (b) in order to raise confusion or disaffection amongst the people to the point of causing unrest in the kingdom, or (c) have people violate the law, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding seven years.

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By Yuval Ginbar, Legal Adviser, Amnesty International

I'm a legal adviser, so not exactly a stranger to courts. I've even been in Thai courts before. But I still find the scene surreal. I was in a Bangkok military court on 7 July 2015, and I'm talking to 14 young students and activists who face the might of Thailand's military justice system.

They are on trial for “seditious" acts like gathering at the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre to stand and stare at a clock for 15 minutes. It was a silent protest to mark the first anniversary of the day the Thai army took over on 22 May 2014. The few minutes they managed to hold their protest – before being dispersed – could eventually lead to seven years in prison. They have been charged with violating a ban on political gatherings of more than five people, one of many draconian laws the army has imposed since seizing power.

The military authorities allowed two diplomats and myself to talk to the 14 students and activists before the hearing on extending their detention. I'm a professional human rights activist but I feel very humble in the presence of these 13 men and one woman. They look so young. They are all wearing prison uniforms - a cream coloured t-shirt and brown shorts. Their hands are shackled. But they are totally fearless. They protested on 22 May, and others protested again when charges were pressed against five of the original protestors. Sitting in the second row I see "Dave", who was grabbed by plainclothes members of the security forces, dragged by his hands and feet and then kicked and beaten when he fell to the ground. He has a dislocated cornea to show for it.

I'm even more worried about the one woman among them - "Kade", whose violent handling by security forces caused damage to the lower part of her spine. She had to be rushed to hospital from the police station where she had been taken, but it took over an hour for an ambulance to be called. Once Amnesty staff - both from the International Secretariat and the Thai section - had visited the 13 male students and activists last week I was among those who went to visit ”Kade”. But she wasn't to be found at the women's prison - she had been admitted to the prison hospital nearby to undergo a check-up. I could only see her sitting (and smiling) through a window. In the courtroom her smile was broad enough to show through her surgical mask. But she told me she was still in hospital and would probably need surgery - when she went out for a bathroom break, she could hardly walk and had to be supported by two officers.

Still, neither “Kade” nor any of the other students would request bail - they demanded to be released unconditionally.

The students said they were treated well once detained. They were clean and relaxed, and showed no signs of fear. They said their arrest was unlawful, that they were not shown any warrant, that there was violence. They rejected being charged and arrested in the first place, and being tried in a military court. They said the government was trying to silence them. I couldn't help but think that it was doing a very bad job of it.

I looked at these brave, brave young people and was full of admiration. I did what I could to help defend their rights. I told them again - as we'd told them during the prison visits - that Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience, that the movement is campaigning worldwide to secure their immediate, unconditional release, and that civilians should never face military courts.

Before the hearing, I also managed to greet their family members. Some of them have been threatened by the authorities and told to ensure their children stay away from politics, a fact which one of the lawyers brought to the court.

The hearing lasted about an hour. Three of the students were allowed to speak, at some length. One of the three judges occasionally stepped in though. For instance, when “Rome” said "we don't pose a threat to society, only to the military government" he was told to stick to the point, which as far the judges were concerned was arguments for release without bail.

The judges then consulted. When they returned, one of them read out their decision: Release without conditions! There is a strict code of conduct in the courtroom, which was the only reason why I didn't jump up and hug everyone.

This is a victory. But the charges weren't dropped. The activists told me the army just wanted things to quieten down in view of the international attention, reflected in the massive media presence outside and around a dozen diplomats inside the courtroom.

The families looked more relieved than the students themselves. All thanked us. I do hope our campaigning helped, but there's a long way to go. The charges must be dropped, as must be the ridiculous laws that allowed the farce to take place at all, such as the prohibition of political gatherings of five people or more.

So a good day in court - I wave “goodbye” to the students, to the families. But we're not going away. We'll continue campaigning until human rights are fully respected and genuine smiles return to the faces of the people of Thailand, “the land of smiles”.

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On day four of the Koh Tao murder trial Police Colonel Cherdpong Chiewpreecha from Police Division 8 took to the stand to testify with regards to the CCTV footage of both the victims and the accused. The last CCTV footage of the victims was seen at 1am when Hannah Witheridge entered the AC Bar at […]

The post Koh Tao murder trial – court goes into recess at 10.15pm on day four appeared first on Samui Times.

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BANGKOK, 23 July 2015: Airports of Thailand reports its June data showed increases in both aircraft movements and passengers at the six airports under its management. AoT reported, Wednesday, that all of its supervised airports handled 8,044,421 passengers up 37.79% from 5,838,276 during the same month last year. Overall aircraft movements also increased by 25.33% […] Read more...
Thaweeporn Kummetha, Hussan Tohdong and Muhammad Dueramae

A Key PULO member talks about his 18 years behind bars, during which he helped to further peace talks.

Haji Sama-ae Thanam, former leader of the PULO (Patani United Liberation Organization) separatist movement, speaks to Prachatai about his 18 years in prison in 4 different facilities until his release on this year’s Hari Raya (Eid al-Fitr). During his time behind bars he helped to further peace talks in the Deep South. Here, he talks about the prospects of peace for his homeland.

Ma-ae Sa-a, also known as Haji Sama-ae Thanam, ex-leader of the PULO Patani separatist movement, was sentenced for life for treason. His sentenced was continually reduced until he was allowed parole, and later released with condition on this past 17 July, on Eid al-Fitr.

During his 18 years of imprisonment, Haji has been keeping up with the events happening in the Deep South. His role in peace talks, both those organized by the Thai government and those by PULO, show that he has been trying to push for both sides to talk with each other.

Haji talks about his role in peace talks and his views on achieving peace in the Deep South. Thaweeporn Kummetha, Hussan Tohdon, and Muhammad Dueramae visited his home in Thanam Village, Thanam Subdistrict, Panareh District, Pattani province. He had arrived home only 4 days before.

This interview was conducted in Malayu. The interviewers hope that through the use of local language, this interview will distinguish itself from other media that is gathers information through Central Thai.

Haji Sama-ae Thanam,” former leader of the PULO (Patani United Liberation Organization) separatist movement

 

18 years behind bars

Haji Sama-ae Thanam tells us that he was arrested in 1997, and in 1998 was sentenced for life. During his 18 years in prison, he was incarcerated in a total of 4 prisons: Bangkok Remand Prison, Bangkwang Central Prison, Central Songkhla Prison, and finally Central Yala Prison before being paroled and released.

“During my time in prison, I had a clean record. I never hurt anyone, so wardens respected me. I also helped other inmates, especially those who hadn’t adjusted to prison life yet. I helped others who were sick, without caring about their religion or ethnicity. I read them the Du’a [in Islam, prayer to call upon God] in a provincial Muslim doctor way.

During my entire time in the prisons, I was treated well by the wardens. I was never hurt nor tortured.

“I wept when my lawyer, Somchai, was forcibly disappeared”

During my trial, Somchai Neelapaijit, former president of the Organization of Muslim Lawyers, came represent me in court, along with lawyers Godae Gotae and Kamolsak Liwamoh.

I respect and admire Somchai very much, since he is a sincere person who sacrifices himself for others. It’s very hard to find a lawyer like him.

The last time I saw lawyer Somchai was at the Bangkwang Central Prison. He said to me that he would help me as long as he was living, and would never abandon me. Not long after that I heard about his enforced disappearance, and I was extremely distraught and sad.

Normally, I don’t even cry when someone I know dies. But Somchai’s enforced disappearance made me weep.

Role in Pattani peace talks

During the period of unrest in the Deep South, I wrote a letter to Pol Lt Col Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister at the time, suggesting solutions to the violence through peace talks.

I presented the letter through Gen Thammarak Isarangkura na Ayudhaya the defence minister at the time. Only a month later, I received news that the letter had reached the hands of the prime minister, and I got a response as well.

The reason I sent a letter to the PM was because I used to be a coordinator for peace talks between government representatives and Tongubiro Gotolilor, the former secretary general of PULO from 1991 to 1993. At that time, Lt Gen Kitti Ratanachaya was commander of the 4th region army.

The government representatives at that time included Gen Oknit Muensawad and Maj Gen Charin Amonkeaw. The first time they met to talk was in Egypt, and in the second, Syria.

“All conflicts end with negotiations”

Peace talks were arranged because PULO views it as an internationally-accepted way to relieve conflicts. Conflicts all over the world end with negotiations and discussions at the tables of peace talks.

After Pol Lt Col Thaksin Shinawatra received my letter, he immediately tried to arrange a peace talk. He sent contacts to Malaysia to get in touch with Wangadeh Jehman, former president of the Bersutu Group, an organization that fights for the liberation of Patani. However, Wangadeh refused to talk to Thai government representatives.

They refused because they were not ready to discuss peace talks. They didn’t trust that Thai government were being sincere in their intentions. At that time, the group was also afraid that if they came out to talk with Thai government representatives, they could be arrested like I was. Even I, who used to be a coordinator and middleman, was arrested.

Later, during Gen Surayud Chulanont’s office as PM, there started to be more peace talks, sponsored by Mahathir Mohamad, former PM of Malaysia. However, none of these peace talks were successful.

When Yingluck Shinawatra was PM, there were the first open peace talks, but they still weren’t successful.

When Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha took over, he sent an official to me to ask for my input in achieving peace. They asked me who would be a suitable representative from the Thai side peace talks.

I replied that it had to be someone whom the PM trusted the most, whether it be a military officer, police officer, a civilian officer, or anyone else. He had to trust that person to resolve any problems that arose in a peace talk.

What does “real peace” look like?

Personally I think that the process towards peace needs to place importance in the “inner people.” By that, i mean the people living in Patani. We have to ask them what they need, and how they want to achieve it. The process towards achieving peace cannot just end at the peace talk’s discussion table.

Presently, the Council of Syura [Malay: Majlis Syura Patani, an umbrella organization Deep South insurgent groups] has been established. However, Syura still needs to listen to the voice of the “inner people.”  

The Council of Syura is different from MARA Patani [Malay: Majlis Amanah Rakyat Patani, another umbrella organization for Deep South insurgent groups]. Many people do not accept the actions of MARA. In addition, the name MARA is the same as many other organizations from Malaysia, so there are a lot of misunderstandings about MARA being a Malaysian organization.

The establishment of the Council of Syura is a good sign for the progress for peace in Patani, like a budding flower about to bloom. The first peace talk between the Council of Syura and the Thai authorities occurred on 8 June 2015 that just passed.

How should the peace talks proceed, in order to progress?

If the peace talks in Patani are to progress, then the Council of Syura must be able to convene at least 3 to 4 different groups to talk. Every group must be invited to discuss, since each group has their own needs.

It’s not counted as a failure either, if unity is not achieved. It could be counted as an “incomplete success.” It’s having finished building a house, but some people are still chiseling. The house is livable, they have to endure the hammering noises.

What the peace talks really need?

Let me refer to a topic that was brought up in the 8 June 2015 peace talk. As far as I know, the Thai authorities had one proposal, while the Council of Syura had three.

The Thai authorities proposed a ceasefire during Ramadan, which produced favorable results, even if it was an unofficial request. This year’s Ramadan was one of the most peaceful ones so far, especially when we compare it to the last two Ramadans. This shows that this year’s peace talk is more effective that they one in 2013.

As for the Syura’s 3 proposals, the first one asked for the state to guarantee the safety of Syura peace talk participants. The second proposal said that the issue of Patani peace talks must be elevated to the status of national concern, and had to be approved by the Parliament. The third proposal said that the state had to officially acknowledge the Council of Syura.

The only way to solve the protracted conflict in this area is to hold open discussion about it. The discussions should follow His Majesty the King’s royal initiatives of understanding, accessing, and developing the people. Developing is especially important, because citizens living in developed areas around the world have a good standard of living, good jobs, and good education. Those areas do not foster conflicts.

* This article is translated from Thai to English by Asaree Thaitrakulpanich 

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