Thailand, rebel group to open peace talks March 28

Thailand and one of several rebel groups in the country's Muslim south will open peace negotiations in Malaysia on March 28 to try to end a bloody insurgency, a Thai official said Thursday.

Thailand and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebel group signed an agreement in Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago, pledging to open talks on ending a nine-year revolt by a number of shadowy insurgent groups that has claimed more than 5,500 lives.

Paradorn Pattanatabut, the head of Thailand's National Security Council, said a preliminary meeting was held on March 5 on the "conditions" for the talks, but more substantive dialogue would begin with the one-day exchange on March 28.

"We will fly to Malaysia for the first talks with BRN and possible other representatives on March 28," Paradorn told AFP.

"We aim to focus on what we should do to decrease violence in the south."

Paradorn did specify the "possible other representatives" or give any further details on the planned talks hosted by Thailand's southern neighbour.

The BRN, whose Malay name means "National Revolutionary Front", is one of the larger groups blamed by Thailand for the violence, but it remains to be seen whether other rebel organisations will fall in line.

Analysts says the search for peace is complicated by the splintered nature of the insurgents, lack of concrete demands, and Thailand's difficulty in finding negotiating partners who actually control hardened fighters on the ground.

Several people have been killed in bomb attacks or shootings in the Muslim-majority Thai south since the March 5 agreement.

Malaysian officials had said earlier it was hoped that other groups would eventually join in the talks, but declined to comment on the coming meeting.

Many residents of Thailand's southernmost provinces are Muslim ethnic Malays who resent being governed by the Buddhist Thais. The region sees near-daily gun and bomb attacks by insurgents seeking greater autonomy, which Thailand rejects.

The initial agreement pledging to launch negotiations was signed in Kuala Lumpur on February 28, coinciding with a visit by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for annual talks with her counterpart, Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Malaysia already hosts negotiations between the Philippines and Muslim separatists in the south of that country, resulting in a landmark agreement in October aimed at burying a decades-long insurgency there.