Split in Pulo could hurt peace process with Thai government


An ongoing secret peace talk may be facing more obstacles now that one of long standing Malay Muslim separatist groups that has been working tih the National Security Council (NSC) has split up resulting in more splinter groups.


The NSC has been secretly dealing with the Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo) since 2006 after the then Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont issued an executive order asking all relevant agencies to look for non-military solutions to the conflict in the deep South where nearly 5,000 people have been died since January 2004 due to insurgency related violence.
The group was under the leadership of Noor Abdulrahman, also known as Abe Kamae, and vice president, Kasturi Mahkota, who doubled as the group's foreign affairs chief.
As of late October 2011, Abae Kamae and Kasturi went on their own separate way. No explanation was really given as to why the two parted. 
In a statement sent to The Nation, Abae Kamae claimed he is still the president of the movement. He was elected at a Pulo Congress held in 2009 in Syria. He named a well known figure in the exiled Patani Malay community, Lukman Bin Lima, as the deputy president. 
Kasturi, on the other hand, accused Abae Kamae and his followers of abuse of power and trying to obstruct a work in progress. Kasturi, a key person behind the dealing with the NSC since 2006, maintained that his legitimacy came from the Pulo Congress, also known as the Majlis Kepimpinan Pulo, or MKP. 
He argued that Abae Kamae had decided to abandon the Congress and therefore neither he nor Lukman has the right to the name of the movement. The two factions continue to use the same Pulo logo.
An informed Thai source with working relations with the secret process of the NSC said he was concerned that the split as a set back and could have an adversed affect on the NSC process.
But a source in the Thai Army who has been dealing with Patani Malay separatist movements for decades said the split at this stage should not matter much since the NSC secret process is still in confidence building mode and experimenting on a number of ideas.
Moreover, said the officer, there are other so-called Pulo factions and leaders that the NSC process had overlooked. They include Samsudine Khan, who is also known as Abu Yasir Fikri, who in July 2009 formed an alliance with another separatist group, Gerakan Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP) of Jehku Mae Kuteh, also known as Doramae Puteh. 
The officer also pointed to Europe-based Rushdie Yi-ngor, also a long standing leader in the Pulo movement who appeared to have gain some traction after the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) re-entered the scene by organising a talk shop for the long standing separatist groups in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia in October 2010.
OIC urged the leaders to form the United Patani People Council (UPPC) to be an umbrella organisation that could serve as the separatist movement's political wing that would enter into some sort of formal dialogue or peace talk with the Thai state. 
The problem with the Thai side, said another military officer, is that there is no unity among all the relevant government agencies on the very idea of talking to the enemies even though there is an understanding that they are willing to settle for something less than independence. 
Thai military commanders said they rather deal directly with the insurgents on the ground who are behind the violence rather then the exiled leaders who have no real command and control on the ground. 
Thai government continue to employ military approach, coupled with development, to win the hearts and minds of the local residents. The effort has been easy as the armed militants on the ground enjoy a great deal of tremendous support from the local Malay Muslim villagers, not to mention the fact that heavy handed tactics and culture of impunity among the authorities continue to make it harder for the state to regain its legitimacy among the Malay Muslim residents. 
Sources with working knowledge of the militants on the ground said the insurgents would not enter into any direct negotiation with the Thai officials for fear that such effort would be a trap to kill them.
They said the only exit strategy is through the exiled leaders who the armed insurgents said must first unite among themselves before they could enter into formal or informal talks with the Thai state.
Note: For more information about the ongoing conflict in southern Thailand, please visit http://seasiaconflict.com/