Thailand’s deputy prime minister has confirmed that peace talks with southern rebels will take place in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, but that the Thai government is moving to boost security in the insurgency zone through a new “forward command post.”
“For peace talks, we will follow up on Sept. 2,” Deputy PM and Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan told journalists in Bangkok on Monday, confirming information reported by BenarNews last week.
He was answering a question about the prospect of Malaysia-brokered exploratory negotiations resuming for the first time in four months, despite a spate of bombings that killed six and injured dozens more in Thailand’s upper south and insurgency-ridden Deep South earlier this month.
The confirmation came a week after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha told reporters that Thailand’s military government was considering a date for a new round of informal talks with MARA Patani, a panel representing rebel groups and factions from the Deep South. But, Prayuth warned, the junta would not be forced through violence into speeding up talks.
Meanwhile, investigators probing 11 bombings and a series of arson attacks that hit tourist hotspots across the upper south on Aug. 11 and 12 have said that at least 20 people from the Deep South were involved in those deadly plots.
Thai NSC chief: ‘We will see how it comes out’
The talks, aimed ultimately at ending a separatist insurgency that has killed more than 6,000 people in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region, stalled nearly four months ago when the Thai side declined to sign off on ground rules, known as Terms of Reference (TOR), for future negotiations. Thailand has not held formal peace talks with the rebels since December 2013, when a civilian government was in charge.
Prawit spoke to reporters after returning Monday from a visit to neighboring Malaysia, where he discussed bilateral security cooperation with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the Bangkok Post reported.
The next day, the secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council spoke to BenarNews about the upcoming talks in Malaysia.
“Malaysia will be a facilitator. It all depends on when and how we and the dissidents are ready to talk,” Gen. Taweep Netniyom said in a phone interview.
“Gen. Aksara (Kerdpol) is prepared for the talks and we will see how it comes out,” Taweep said, referring to the head of the Thai delegation. “We need to be sure that the talks represent all sides so they are effective.”
The government has set a precondition that a safety zone – or ceasefire zone – be established to demonstrate that MARA Patani can control insurgents on the ground.
The current peace efforts ground to a halt in late April – the last time that the two sides met in Kuala Lumpur – because the two sides could not agree to a limited ceasefire, which the government was pushing as a condition for advancing the talks.
However, negotiators from both sides met on Aug. 14 to 16 to reach an agreement on new terms of reference ahead of Friday’s meeting. No details were released following that meeting.
Full story: BenarNews
Nontarat Phaicharoen and Nasueroh
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