January 31, 2020 / 12:10 PM / 18 days ago

Talks between Thailand, insurgents to resume in March - Thai official

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Talks will resume in early March between representatives of the Thai government and the main insurgent group fighting for independence in the country largely Muslim-Malay south, the head of the government team on Friday.

The conflict in the Malay-speaking region of predominantly Buddhist Thailand has flared on and off since the area was annexed by the Thais in 1909, with the latest round that started in 2004 killing some 7,000.

Kuala Lumpur last week hosted a meeting between Thai officials and envoys of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), which observers say controls the majority of fighters on the ground and which pulled out of peace talks in 2014.

General Wanlop Rugsanaoh, the head of the Thai dialogue team, said he was cautiously optimistic following the Malaysia talks.

“The first session was a meeting for trust-building ... and now it will be about the proposals from both sides,” Wanlop told reporters. “This (next meeting) will take place round early March.”

The general said the talk will only be between his team and the BRN for now with mediation from Malaysia. The process would gradually bring in other insurgent and civil society groups, he said.

Warning that hard-liners on both side that could derail the spirit of peace through violence, Sunai Phasuk, senior Thai researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “The process should incorporate the population in the deep south as well.”

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; editing by John Stonestreet

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