A new round of exploratory talks between Bangkok and southern Thai insurgents is under way in Malaysia and expected to go until Friday with the crucial issue of ceasefire zones on the agenda, a spokesman for the rebels told BenarNews.
The Malaysia-facilitated meetings that aim to re-open formal peace talks between the two sides are the first since early September, when the negotiating teams agreed to future discussions about the so-called safety zones, or a limited ceasefire touted as being key to moving the peace process along.
The latest round began on Tuesday with the delegations meeting in Putrajaya. Smaller, technical panels from both sides were to convene on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to discuss the safety zones and terms of reference (TOR) – a set of ground rules for formal negotiations – confirmed Abu Hafiz al-Hakim, a spokesman for MARA Patani, a panel representing rebel groups and factions from Thailand’s Deep South.
“Yesterday a meeting was held in Putrajaya by the main panels,” Hafiz said by phone Wednesday. “We both agreed to begin discussions on security zones, starting Wednesday for three days, as a step forward in building confidence of both parties.”
Asked to confirm whether a new round of informal peace talks was taking place, a spokesman for the Thai military command in the Deep South spoke generally about the peace process.
“We continue with peace talks and our task is to create a favorable atmosphere for peace talks in cooperation with civil society and academia,” Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the forward office of Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, told BenarNews on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian state-run news agency Bernama reported on Tuesday that the two sides were meeting in Kuala Lumpur, and that Gen. Aksara Kerdpol was leading the Thai delegation.
“Both sides agreed to commence negotiations on the issue of the ‘safety zones’ beginning tomorrow as a step in confidence-building,” Bernama quoted a source with MARA Patani as saying.
Full story: BenarNews
Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Razlan Rashid in Kuala Lumpur and Nani Yusof in Washington contributed to this report.
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