Any Malaysian visiting three of the four southern provinces of Thailand – Pattani, Yala or Narathiwat should be forgiven if they feel they have arrived in Kelantan or Terengganu.
This is because there is so many similarities in the people from both sides, who all basically Malays. The way the locals dress-up and speak in the Malay language of the Kelantanese dialect indicate they share a common heritage.
What more the Nasi Kerabu and Nasi Dagang that are synonymous with Kelantan and Terengganu are ubiquitous in south Thailand.
Moreover, there are still strong family ties between the people of the northern states of Malaysia and the southern provinces of Thailand. The long history of the Malay sultanate’s influence extending both side of the borders have left common legacy for the people there.
However, despite of the many similarities between south Thailand, and Kelantan and Terengganu, the cordiality ends as soon as one crosses the first border post into Thailand from Kelantan. Those crossing the post will note of the security personnel in complete black overalls.
“The locals call the Thai Rangers manning the border post as ‘Samurai’, referring to the Japanese warriors, as they are dressed black from tip to toe. All black,” said a local driver known as “Tuwe.”
Since the conflict erupted in year 2000, Bangkok has deployed thousands security personnel including the “Samurai” to neutralise the uprising in the Muslim dominated provinces.
Non-governmental organisations and local media reported that no less than 7,000 people were killed in the armed uprising in the provinces.
There appears to be a never ending cycle of conflict and bloodshed. In fact there is no light at the end of the tunnel, at least yet.
The presence of a big number of security personnel who at times fail to understand the local sensitivities itself have created a new set of problems.
Many ponder whether the security forces are here to contribute to peace or just fuel animosity and tensions.
The truth is peace in south Thailand is still a distant reality.
A local, Rushdi Ibrahim, in his 30s, noted the biggest impediment in achieving peace here is the suspicion harboured by one another.
“What is happening now is that the locals and the security forces don’t trust each other, hence one is suspicious of the other and this is why there is uncertainty here,” he said.
The locals felt that the security forces had their own motives in their actions and the security forces too were suspicious of the actions of the locals.
Hence there has been limited interactions and communications between both sides.
“When the local leaders failed to turn up at community programmes held at the Buddhist temples, the security forces felt they may be up to no good.
However, their suspicion is baseless and untrue,” he said.
The local leaders might be heavy hearted to attend the programmes organized within the temple due to religious sensitivities, he said adding that there were no ulterior motives for their absence.
However, their absence has made the local leaders the target of the security forces.
Also, that same suspicion has spread within the community especially against the locals who work for the Thai government, said Rushdi.
“Those who work with the government or the programmes run by the government were considered as traitors,” he said adding that this was not right.
“They are only earning a honest living for their families and should not be viewed with suspicion or ostracised,” he said.
On the peace process between the Thai government and the militants facilitated by Malaysia, it is a difficult route and full of impediments.
“Any outcome from the peace process is still far fetch due to the long standing conflict, but as far as I am concerned it is the best option for all,” said Rushdi.
Rushdi is hoping for the best outcome from the peace talks that has been going on for about a year now.
The Thai government and Mara Patani, the umbrella organisation of the six militant groups in south Thailand, have joined a series of peace talks under the auspices of the Malaysian government.
However, the talks hit a snag after both sides failed to achieve a consensus on the “Terms of Reference (TOR)” when they last met in Kuala Lumpur in July.
So far there has been no signs when will both sides get back on the peace process trail.