'Outsiders' play big role in peace process

Instead of leaving the peace process in the southern border provinces as a matter for affected locals only, Thais in all parts of the country should be involved, a seminar was told on Wednesday.

In the seminar titled "The role of outsiders in the peace process in the southern border provinces", academics from leading institutions stressed that all parts of society have a crucial role in helping end the conflict in southern border provinces, and every stakeholder needs to take part in working toward this.

The problems of the restive South affect the whole country, so a nationwide approach is needed, they said.

Chulalongkorn University scholar Chantana Wungaeo said it is crucial that the public be involved in the peace process, since public sentiment usually affects the framework used in addressing the issue.

Gothom Arya, director of the Research and Peace Development Centre at Mahidol University, said the public are usually nonchalant about the conflict in the South unless there are news reports of unrest, or they are affected by the conflict. Otherwise, knowledge about the issue is sparse.

"We ought to show compassion towards the people living there, and the government needs to refrain from alienating people in the area," he said.

Mr Gothom added that although people might not directly contribute to the process, they can equip themselves with accurate information regarding the issue and refrain from spreading misinformation which could result in public opinion that is hostile and counterproductive to the peace process.

Chiangmai University professor Mark Tamthai said all students graduating from a Thai university should have basic and accurate knowledge about the country's major problems, especially about problems in the South.

He suggested every Thai university should offer prerequisite courses that equip students with accurate knowledge about issues that the country is facing.

"[To help contribute to the issue] we need to have a certain level of knowledge so as to not spread misinformation nor inaccurate knowledge; it doesn't need to be in-depth, but it must be accurate," he said.

The seminar also stressed the importance of encouraging trust among stakeholders in peace-building efforts in the southern borders provinces, since distrust is a major barrier in engaging locals in resolving conflict. Security forces have tried to build trust with locals by emphasising development issues rather than taking a pure law and order approach.

Human Rights advocate Ruengrawee Pichaikul said that as an outsider, she has gained a comparative advantage since she could engage with every side in the conflict.

Outsider status also helps her generate understanding and quash prevalent myths.

However, she added it was important to be careful not to further stir the situation by acting without taking into consideration the consequences that may occur.

Ruengrawee said any organisation working in the area needs to avoid advancing their own agenda.

It should consider the welfare of the locals and should not ignite any expectation that can not be fulfilled, since doing so will undermine trust with locals.

If that happens, they might feel as if they have been excluded from the peace process.

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