Key insurgent group joins peace talks for Thailand’s restive south

23 January, 2020 12:00 AM printer

KUALA LUMPUR: The key rebel group behind a 16-year insurgency in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south has met the kingdom’s head negotiator for the first official meeting in their peace talks, reports AFP.

Observers see the dialogue as the best hope of ending a conflict which has left thousands dead in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces.

The region has been in the grip of a simmering insurgency since 2004, with clashes between Malay-Muslim rebels and the Buddhist-majority Thai state claiming more than 7,000 lives, mostly civilians. The main rebel group believed to be behind the guerilla attacks—the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) -- has long refused peace talks with Thai officials.

They claim to be fighting for independence after Thailand annexed the three southern provinces—Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat—over a century ago. But this week marked a warming in relations as the two sides held their first official meeting on Monday, with Malaysia as a facilitator.

The BRN said in a statement Tuesday that after years of back-channelling the two parties had agreed to “resolve armed conflicts... by means of political resolution”.

The rebel group added that “observers from overseas” had attended Monday’s meeting.

Thailand’s National Security Council also released a statement saying they are “ready to work with every stakeholder”.