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Thailand Begins Peace Talks With Southern Muslim Insurgents

Thailand Begins Peace Talks With Southern Muslim Insurgents
A Thai police officer stands next to the body of a ranger who was killed in a roadside bomb attack by suspected separatist militants at a hospital in Thailand's restive southern province of Narathiwat on March 28, 2013. Photographer: Madaree Tohlala/AFP/Getty Images

Thai negotiators held the first round of formal peace talks with a militant Muslim group in the country’s south to stem violence that has killed more than 5,000 people in the past decade.

Representatives of Revolution National Front, known as BRN, agreed on terms of reference for the peace dialogue with the government, according to a joint e-mailed statement. The talks were held at a police training school in Kuala Lumpur yesterday after Malaysia agreed to act as a facilitator.

“Both sides exchanged views and information pertaining to the issue of violence in an open and sincere manner,” according to the statement. “Discussion was also focused on finding ways and means to resolve the issue” and “achieving justice.”

The insurgency has stifled investment in the south, where 14 provinces account for about 80 percent of Thailand’s rubber production. Separatists have fought for an independent state in Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani and part of Songkhla province since Thailand formally annexed the autonomous Malay-Muslim sultanate in 1902.

Before her 2011 election victory, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she would consider devolving power to locals in the south in a special administrative zone. About 95 percent of Thailand’s 67 million people are Buddhist.

Ustaz Hassan Taib represented the rebels, with Paradorn Pattanatabut, secretary-general of the National Security Council of Thailand, leading the government delegation, according to the statement. Both sides agreed to meet again April 29 after reporting to their superiors, it said.

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