Thai rebels say peace could be years away
06/14/2013 11:59 GMT
by Julia Zappei
KUALA LUMPUR, June 14, 2013 (AFP) - Rebels from Thailand's restive south Friday said securing lasting peace could take years, acknowledging some insurgents were trying to undermine ongoing talks through continued violence.
More than 5,500 people have died in the near decade-long insurgency in the Muslim-majority region bordering Malaysia.
Talks between the Thai government and representatives of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) began on March 28 but have so far failed to halt near-daily violence.
A second rebel group, the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), joined negotiations from the second round.
Talks could last "two or three years" or even longer, said BRN representative Hassan Taib.
"There is no indication how long it will take... We hope that all sides will be patient and see these talks through," he said in rare comments to foreign media.
"These talks are our best shot. War does not solve anything. This issue can only be solved through negotiations; that is the only way even if it takes a long time," he added.
Thailand and the rebels agreed late Thursday to scale back violence in the country's south during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to last from July 9 to August 7.
Thailand earlier Thursday, before the day-long talks, had expressed impatience at the continuing insurgent violence.
Thai National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut, Bangkok's lead negotiator, told reporters in Thailand Friday that it would be a "test for them (the BRN) during Ramadan whether they can control the violence".
He said Thailand would reduce seal-off and search operations of houses, except to protect "soft targets" such as teachers, scores of whom have been executed for their perceived collaboration with the Thai state.
Hassan said BRN would provide Thailand with "conditions" within 10 days for a reduction in violence, but he did not elaborate.
Five Thai security personnel were killed in a fresh spate of gun and bomb attacks two weeks ago, which the government blamed on insurgents seeking to disrupt the fragile peace process.
Despite two rounds of peace talks since March, the bloodshed has raised questions over how much control rebel leaders have over radical militants.
Hassan acknowledged that there were divisions with some trying to undermine the negotiations, but said these were "mainly individuals with their own interests" and he hoped those who wanted a resolution would join the talks.
"We are only just beginning these negotiations. We intend to include all parties so it goes well," he said.
Amid a series of five demands made in April, BRN has called for "liberation" from the Thai kingdom.
Thai negotiators have raised the idea of creating some form of locally-elected administration in the region, but full autonomy for the south remains taboo as the constitution insists the Buddhist-majority kingdom must not be divided.
Hassan said Friday that they wanted Bangkok to "acknowledge the rights of the people of Patani on their own land", saying autonomy was not an issue currently on the table.
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