World Bulletin / News Desk
Thailand's government and a major Muslim group agreed on Thursday to start talks.
Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces were part of a Malay Muslim sultanate until occupied by Buddhist Thailand a century ago, and pro-independence moves have arised ever since.
The agreement, signed in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur by senior Thai security officials and members of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) group, opens the way for the first formal peace talks with Muslims seeking autonomy or a separate state in homeland for Pattani Muslims.
The officials gave no details on whether the deal to launch a "dialogue process" would be accompanied by a ceasefire. There was also no immediate word on when any peace talks would be held.
Successive Thai governments and the military have made contact with various groups and are believed to have held secret talks, but they have never had open discussions.
The talks come after Thailand last year acknowledged the conflict's "political nature" for the first time after years of relying on military attacks.
A peace process could also face institutional resistance from Thailand's military, which has 60,000 troops in the Muslim regions enforcing a state of emergency.
"The signing is part of a policy written by the government. The military has nothing to do with today's decision," Udomchai Thammasarorat, commander of the Fourth Army in southern Thailand, told Reuters.
Malaysia also helped broker a historic deal between the Philippine government and Moro Muslims in October.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, were due to meet in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday to discuss the peace initiative and plans to boost economic development and transport links in border areas.
BRN Coordinate is an offshoot of the Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front established in the 1960s to seek greater autonomy.
"We'll do our best to solve the problem. We'll tell our people to work together to solve the problem," said Hassan Taib, who signed the document in Kuala Lumpur and was described as the BRN liaison officer for Malaysia.
Local Muslims largely oppose the presence of tens of thousands of police, soldiers and state-armed Buddhist guards in the rubber-rich region and many suspect the authorities of carrying out extrajudicial killings.Last Mod: 28 Şubat 2013, 11:03