Thailand, Muslim militants agree to hold peace talks

AP, KUALA LUMPUR

Fri, Mar 01, 2013 - Page 1

Thailand’s government signed a breakthrough deal with Muslim insurgents for the first time ever yesterday, agreeing to hold talks to ease nearly a decade of violence in the country’s southern provinces that has killed more than 5,000 people.

The agreement was announced in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur between Thai authorities and the militant National Revolution Front (NRF). It is seen as a positive step, but is unlikely to end the conflict because several other shadowy guerrilla movements also fighting in southern Thailand have yet to agree to talks.

“God willing, we’ll do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together,” Hassan Taib, a Malaysian-based senior representative of the National Revolution Front, said after a brief signing ceremony with Thai National Security Council Secretary-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who met with his Thai counterpart, Yingluck Shinawatra, later yesterday said that Thai officials and NRF representatives would hold their first meeting in Malaysia within two weeks.

Najib described the signing as “merely the starting point of a long process” because many issues have to be resolved, but added that it was a “solid demonstration of the common resolve to find and establish an enduring peace in southern Thailand.”

Yingluck said talks would be conducted “within the framework of the constitution” of Thailand to address the root causes of the unrest.

“We need to move forward as soon as possible,” she said after meeting with Najib.

The first round of talks will focus on how both sides can cooperate, said Mohamed Thajudeen Abdul Wahab of the Malaysian government’s National Security Council.

Violence has occurred nearly every day in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces since the insurgency erupted in 2004. The militants’ main targets have been security forces and teachers, who are seen as representatives of the government of the Buddhist-dominated nation.