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By : Abu Hafez Al-Hakim

 ( The author is a member of MARA Patani's Dialogue Panel in the Peace Dialogue Process )


My previous article on the peace process (https://www.deepsouthwatch.org/node/9977 ) ended with a high expectation that the Safety Zone implementation would be put on trial as a pilot project by the first half of 2017. However that never materialized. If anything, it  goes to show that a peace process is always unpredictable, fragile and never without obstacles.

The Joint Technical Team (JTT) of both parties A and B had been working towards drafting the General Framework for the Safety Zones(GF-SZ) since 26 October 2016. By February 2017 it was completed and was submitted for endorsement in the Third Joint Working Group - Peace Dialogue Process (JWG-PDP) meeting on 28 February 2017 , another milestone of the peace process.  Interestingly, the date coincided with the historic signing ceremony of the General Consensus on the Peace Dialogue Process signed in Kuala Lumpur four years ago. Party B named five possible districts to implement the Safety zones from which only one will be selected as the pilot project i.e. two in Narathiwat, two in Yala and one in Pattani. The names of the districts were however not disclosed to public.

Following the endorsement of the GF-SZ, the JTT continued detailing the components ,regulations and the implementation aspects of the framework. At the core of the agendas were the release of prisoners , its legal procedure and implication, the establishment of the Safe House (SH) as a Coordination Centre and the formation of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) in any designated Safety Zone.

The JTT met again on 6 April 2017 to form an Assessment Team (AT), to mutually explore and identify the one district to start with as the pilot project. However, in the following meeting on 27 April 2017, the AT issue was dropped because party B was given the privilege of choosing the "one district" at the onset of the preparation stage. The meeting therefore proceeded with the  discussion on  Safe House(SH ), a coordination centre to be manned by a joint local working team ( 7 from each party) that will assist and coordinate the formation of  JAC in the SZ.

Similar to the ToR ( Terms of References ) the documents pertaining to the SZ are still classified. That raised a lot of questions and speculations. The period of "no meeting " for almost four months added more to the queries. Were they having  problems at the table ? Was the process viable and moving ? More questions were about the Safety Zones (SZ) itself. Is it a cease-fire or a safe-area model  ? The answer is neither.

Basically , the SZ is first of all about CIVILIAN PROTECTION. In any designated SZ , the safety and well-being of civilian in their day-to-day lives is a priority. Both parties (A and B) will refrain from all actions when casualties on civilian is anticipated. Ideally, in the SZ there should be no violent incidences from all sides . However should there be incidences, both parties would work together to identify the perpetrators whom,when confirmed, will be dealt with based on existing laws.

Secondly, freedom of expression is guaranteed. The people are free to voice opinions, especially political, without pressure, harassment or intimidation. Public forums and debates on all community-related issues are encouraged.

Thirdly, the people in the SZ can  actively participate and  decide  what they need/do not need for their community through the JAC . This is in line with the " self-administered community " policy.

The pilot project in one district would serve as a confidence building exercise. It would be a testing ground to see if both parties could actually work with each other after years of armed fighting  and their abilities to curb violence.

The time frame for SZ would start with the establishment of the Safe House (SH) . Then there will be a period of three months  preparation followed by another three months implementation. At the end of the exercise ( six months) the  JTT will evaluate and make recommendation to the JWG-PDP whether the SZ should be extended, expanded, suspended or terminated altogether.

On 12 September 2017 the JTT met again. At this juncture the party A was pressing for the "one district", while party B would reserve the disclosure until all issues related to SZ are discussed and agreed upon. The disagreement over this issue had prompted the Malaysian Facilitator to call off the meeting just before lunch. Both parties would go back, review their stance and to return to the dialogue table in two weeks time. That was the second obstacle faced at the table ( the first one was the dispute over the ToR in the 27 April 2016 meeting )

The expected meeting on 27 September 2017 did not take place . The Facilitator was engaging the mainstream BRN who had earlier issued media statement and had submitted proposals of their stance on the peace process. It was rumored that  Mr. Zamzamin Hashim tried to arrange a meeting between General Aksra Kerdphol, the Thai panel chief and Dunloh Wae Matnor or Pok Su Loh of the BRN . Despite of rumors , vague media reports and diplomatic speculations , the much controversial  meeting has not occurred, yet. The initiative is on-going.

There was no other peace talk meetings towards the end of 2017. Both parties however, conveyed communication through the facilitator on unsettled issues of the SZ. It is worth mentioning here that at the beginning of 2018 the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming clearer. In an off-table encounter in January at Kuala Lumpur , both sides struck a deal , achieved a significant "breakthrough" and agreed to resume the peace talk meetings. This was realized by the JTT meeting on 7 February 2018 , whereby the teams wrapped up the remaining issues of the SZ.  It is just a matter of another two or three meetings ahead and both parties are ready to kick-start the SZ exercise in the agreed pilot district.

The success of SZ very much depends on both parties to come to term on the common agenda : To create a peaceful and safe atmosphere for the civilians, to open space for freedom of speech and expression, and to allow the communities to manage themselves in all aspects. The NGOs and CSOs will have significant roles in the SZ . They will be part of the JAC and collaborate with the selected representatives from a community as supportive resources group. They will also help in organising public forums and facts finding exercise.

This said, the SZ is not without challenges from both inside and outside. The anticipated sabotage from the  opponents of peace process and spoilers  are not to be taken lightly. Only through wisdom, cooperation, patience , sincerity and strong commitment from all those who are involved plus strong community support could a safe and peaceful atmosphere be created for civilian, the very first step towards a just ,comprehensive and sustainable conflict resolution.


Abu Hafez Al-Hakim ,

(Spokesman ,MARA-Patani )

15 February 2018 / 29 Jamadil Awwal 1439 H