The conflict in Thailand’s Deep South has now lasted over five years, and continues to see daily, worsening violence. The question many people are asking is has government policy so far been correct - particularly in sending the army to deal with the problem?
Academics in Thailand are beginning to ask this question and in the months toward the end of 2009, there were a number of big academic seminars focused on problems in the Deep South. They covered a range of issues, and were hosted by institutions in both Bangkok and the South, with the dominant themes being autonomy, Pattani history, human rights and the government’s response to solving the conflict. All of which did not shy away from criticising government policy or providing alternative solutions.
The 'Non-Violence Global Political Sciences', held by Prince of Songkhla University, looked at solving the political issues of the Deep South. The main discussion looked at methods to stop the violence, by promoting grassroots approaches as a counter to an increasingly top-down method. The also looked at ways to ensure the military strategy was led by the political rather than the other way around.
Prince of Songkhla University, supported by the Research Centre for Peacebuilding of Mahidol University, held a conference on the possibility of an autonomous area in the South, and looked at the experience of autonomy in other countries such as Aceh in Indonesia, Midanao in Philippines, and minority groups in China and New Zealand.
'Phantasm in Southern Thailand: Historical Writing on Pattani and the Islamic World', held by Walailak university, Chulalongkorn university, National Discovery Museum Institute and Thailand Research Fund, in Bangkok, was biggest ever conference about the conflict in the Deep South and had speakers from around the world. Focused on the history of Pattani, the general consensus was the government needed to pay more attention to the historical roots of the conflict - the Pattani empire, and the particular identity of region’s people.
However, since the conflict began in 2004, there have been over 1,000 published academic articles and books on the situation in the Deep South, and yet violence continues and no real progress seems to have been made. All of these conferences are lacking a crucial element - the participation of local people. The question should not only be about the government response, but where is the space for local people in the peace process? Only then will we see progress in the conflict on Thailand's Deep South.