KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Thai authorities and Muslim separatist leaders started peace talks on Thursday aimed at ending almost a decade of unrest in the country's far south, as a new attack by suspected militants killed three Thai soldiers.
The secretary-general of Thailand's National Security Council, Lt. Gen. Paradorn Pattanathabutr, said he was "very happy" with the first meeting with the rebels led by the National Revolution Front, also known by the acronym BRN, and the Pattani United Liberation Organization, or PULO.
"We share the same goal, which is to reduce violence in the region. Both sides have agreed that we want peace in the area," Paradorn told reporters after a daylong meeting facilitated by Malaysia.
Violence has occurred nearly every day in Thailand's Muslim-dominated three southernmost provinces since the insurgency erupted in 2004, and more than 5,000 people have been killed. The militants have mainly targeted security forces and teachers, who are seen as representatives of the government of the predominantly Buddhist nation.
Muslims in the region, which was an independent Islamic sultanate until it was annexed by Thailand in the early 20th century, have long complained of discrimination by the central government in Bangkok, and the insurgents are thought to be fighting for autonomy. But the insurgency remains murky, with militants making no public pronouncements on their goals.
Paradorn said the rebels were asking Thai authorities to provide justice to the insurgents although he declined to give more details of their request.
The Thai authorities were also pushing for the militants to designate areas that could be free from attacks.
"I believe that today's talks will lead to an atmosphere that yields solutions, or yields progress that would result in solutions. The main issues are to reduce the violence," Paradorn said ahead of Thursday's meeting.