Talks with southern rebels `still on`: Thai junta

The junta has struggled to revive peace talks with the insurgents since its 2014 grab.

AFP| Updated: Sep 01, 2016, 11:35 AM IST

Bangkok: Talks between Thai government negotiators and southern insurgents will go ahead Friday in neighbouring Malaysia, a senior junta official said, despite a recent spate of bombings defying the regime`s call to curb violence.

Thailand`s southernmost tip, a Muslim-majority region known as the "Deep South", has been at the heart of a 12-year revolt against the Buddhist-majority state with more than 6,500 people, mostly civilians, killed.

For years the bloodshed has largely been contained to the remote border region, where bombings and shootings are a near-daily occurrence.

But analysts believe the shadowy ethnic Malay insurgents dramatically expanded their campaign last month by orchestrating a string of blasts that struck tourist towns further north and killed four.

The junta is desperate to avoid linking the southern militants to the tourist town attacks as any expansion of the southern conflict would undercut its much-vaunted claims to have slowed violence in the region.

However analysts say insurgents are the most likely culprits and a police investigation has identified three Muslims from the conflict zone as its only suspects behind around a dozen blasts spread across five provinces.

"Talks will definitely take place, there has been no cancellation," defence minister Prawit Wongsuwon said Thursday, clarifying a suggestion he made last week that negotiations might be shelved after a powerful car bomb that killed two people in insurgent-torn Pattani province.

That bomb, which wounded dozens, was detonated outside a hotel in a popular nightlife district -- a less frequent target for rebels who more often attack security officers and symbols of the state.

Prawit stressed there was no plan to produce any concrete agreement on Friday.

"We will try to prevent violence, and only if there is progress can we sign anything," he told reporters.

The junta has struggled to revive peace talks with the insurgents since its 2014 grab.

Analysts say progress is unlikely while a tight security net remains over the region, which has been governed by emergency laws for the past decade and is awash with soldiers and volunteer rangers.

Critics have also cast doubt on the ability of the rebels` representatives to control their foot soldiers on the ground.

The insurgents never claim their attacks and little is known about the inner-workings of their murky network.

The deep south region, which was annexed by Thailand over a century ago, is the only Muslim-majority area in the kingdom and home to ethnically Malay people.