Leading Islamic organisation offers to help Thailand rebuild peace in restive south
BANGKOK: The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) offered to serve as a facilitator in a peace-building process between the Thai government and separatist groups in the country’s southernmost region, its secretary-general Iyad Ameen Al Madani said after a meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on Tuesday.
“We have offered ourselves as a facilitator, as part of the confidence-building measures for a political process in the south,” Mr Madani said, explaining the OIC – the second largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations – has a role of bringing peace to the Muslim-dominated region, where armed conflicts have continued for more than 12 years.
“We are very much encouraged by what is happening under the present leadership,” he added, referring to the Thai military government’s new peace talks team under by General Aksara Kerdphol.
Formerly known as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the OIC is the collective voice of the Muslim world, established to safeguard and protect Muslims’ interests in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony.
Before arriving in Bangkok, Mr Madani also met with representatives of Mara Patani, an umbrella organisation of six southern separatist groups, including Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Patani, Barisan Islam Pembebasan Patani, and three factions of the Patani Lieberation Organisation (PULO).
Representatives of civil society groups from Thailand’s three southernmost provinces were also invited to join the meeting in Malaysia to discuss their role in the peace process, said Dr Srisompob Jitpiromsri, the director of the Deep South Watch of the University of Pattani.
Although the meeting did not please certain Thai officiails, Mr Madani said it was useful to gauge the ongoing peace process.
“It was basically a social gathering where we listened to the conversation over lunch to what they had to say. We were not here to talk on their behalf,” Mr Madani explained, stressing both sides should respect three principles when seeking a political solution to the southern conflict.
“There should be no question of the integrity of the Kingdom of Thailand. Two, all Thais are citizens and thus they have equal rights and bear the same responsibilities. Three, we see Thailand as a place where there is complete freedom of religion.”
At present, it is unknown when the next round of peace talks will take place. However, a Thai official involved in the peace process said the two sides maintain their communication and regularly meet behind closed doors.
Besides working on the peace process, Mr Madani also asked Thailand to help engage its neighbour Myanmar in tackling the humanitarian situation in western Arakan (Rakhine) State that has triggered a mass migration of Rohingya Muslims.
“It’s a human rights issue, a national rights issue, and we are hoping that other countries in the region, including Thailand, will hopefully play a positive role through their bilateral relationships with Myanmar, and also through ASEAN,” said Mr Madani, adding he hopes the political changes in the country after its historic elections last year will help improve the situation.
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