Thailand to resume peace talks with Muslim separatists in Malaysia

Reuters , Thursday 8 Dec 2016

Thailand on Thursday said peace talks with Muslim separatists would resume in Malaysia next week after a round in September ended without progress.

Separatists waging a decades-old insurgency in the Muslim-majority southern Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have stepped up attacks since 2004 with more than 6,500 people killed, according to an independent monitoring group.

A peace effort began in 2013 under a civilian government and was picked up again by a military government set up after a 2014 coup.

Talks on Sept. 2 between the Thai government and separatists in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, ended with no breakthrough. Mostly Muslim Malaysia has been trying to nudge the process forward.

"Next week a small team will travel to Malaysia to talk to groups who have different opinions in order to discuss 'safety zones'," General Aksara Kerdpol, the Thai government's lead negotiator, told Reuters.

"Our goals is to minimize losses and violence. Talks right now are at the trust-building stage and these safety zones are one way of building this trust," he said.

The safety zones would be an area where insurgency-related fighting is off-limits, according to the Thai military, but details about the zones have not been made clear.

Six people were shot dead on Wednesday and Thursday in predominantly Buddhist Thailand's far south, though four of the deaths were thought to have been linked to personal disputes, the Thai military's Internal Security Operations Command said.

A string of bombings killed four Thais and wounded dozens of people, including foreigners, in tourist towns in August, raising fears that insurgent violence was spilling out of the far south.

No group claimed the bombings and the government gave mixed signals as to whether the Muslim rebels were believed to have been responsible, though police did link the coordinated attacks to the insurgents.

The government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra responded to the flare up in southern violence in 2004 with force and imposed emergency laws that give broad powers to security forces.

Muslims in the far south complain of decades of neglect by the Bangkok-based establishment and bureaucracy.

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