Some 1,000 scholars, diplomats, social workers and students took part Wednesday in an international conference in Thailand’s violence-wracked Deep South aimed at fostering peace in the region, where at least five people died in continued fighting this week, according to officials and police.
The participants from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines – three Southeast Asian nations hit by Muslim insurgencies – agreed to forge a network among academics for research and other activities that promote peace-building and conflict resolution using various models.
They said the resolution of long-running conflicts in Indonesia’s Aceh province and an ongoing peace deal in the southern Philippines offered hope for an end to the insurgency in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim southern border region, which has left more than 6,000 people dead and 10,000 injured since 2004.
“The reason for us to link [the conflicts] in Mindanao and Aceh with what is happening here is to open a forum to exchange knowledge and experience …. We face similar conflicts but have different approaches to the peace process,” said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of the Center for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity at Prince of Songkla University, which was one of the organizers of the conference in Pattani.
“I believe if we share our knowledge, we may form a template for future conflict resolutions based on our experience from these three areas,” Srisompob said in his opening remarks at the conference, titled “TriPeace via ASEAN Muslim Society: Muslim Societies, Knowledge and Peace-building in Southeast Asia.”
The Prince of Songkla University and People’s College, another institution in southern Thailand, as well as Thailand’s Fatoni University, the Mindanao State University in the Philippines and Universitas Islam Negeri Al-Raniry in Indonesia, signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the peace-building effort.
The cooperation will include annual peace-building conferences in each of the three countries. The next meeting will be held in Mindanao, the Philippines, he said.
“Such cooperation not only leverages the status of academic work on conflicts and peace study but it will help develop Islamic studies and bind them to societal changes amid conflicts,” said Sukree Langputeh, the vice president of Fatoni University.
Aside from sharing and exchanging knowledge among Muslim and non-Muslim academics about Islamic dynamics in conflict areas, the conference also aimed to generate debate on “controversial topics and issues about conflict and peace from Islamic perspectives,” among other objectives, according to a statement posted on the website of Deep South Watch, a think-tank linked to the University of Pattani.
“It is expected that the experiences of guest speakers from international and national communities will greatly contribute to local insights on peace processes, bringing about enhanced peace-building platforms for the southernmost region of Thailand,” the statement said.
Last month, Thai officials and a coalition of Muslim rebel groups held informal talks in Malaysia in an effort to contain the endless violence in southern Thailand. But there was no major breakthrough.
A violent few days
Over the last three days, five people – three of them security personnel – were killed and two others injured in a spate of shootings in Thailand’s far south.
In Narathiwat province, two border patrol policemen in Tak Bai district, a member of the paramilitary force in Ra-ngae district, and a villager in Ruesoh district were all shot dead in separate incidents, according to police. In addition, a resident of Bannang Sata district in Yala province was gunned down.
On Monday, leaflets were distributed encouraging the people of Pattani province to take up arms against the government, police said.
Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces border Malaysia and were part of a Malay Muslim sultanate annexed by mostly Buddhist Thailand over a century ago.