The main group fighting an insurgency in Thailand’s largely Muslim south said it had held its 1st meeting with officials from the new Thai government and had set out demands as a condition for any formal peace talks.
The insurgency in the Malay-speaking region of the predominantly Buddhist country has killed some 7,000 people over the past 15 years and has flared on and off for decades.
Officials of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) said they met a Thai delegation at a location in Southeast Asia Friday and demanded the release of all people detained over suspected links to the insurgency and a transparent investigation into abuses by security forces.
That could be a step toward formal talks, the officials said, while emphasizing that it was very early in the process.
“If the official peace talks are a feast then these secret meetings are like bringing the cow into the kitchen, but the cow is not even slaughtered yet,” Pak Fakir, 70 anni, a senior BRN member said in a rare interview.
General Udomchai Thamsarorat, the head of peace dialogue with southern insurgent groups for the Thai government, declined to comment on whether a meeting had taken place.
The BRN has not been in formal talks with the government although contacts did take place at least 2X with the former military junta of Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was elected Prime Minister earlier this year.
The past contacts with the BRN never led to talks and it has continued a guerrilla war to demand independence for Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, which were part of an independent Malay Sultanate before the Kingdom of Siam annexed them in Y 1909.
“The root cause of our problem is colonization, and this has never been touched upon in past talks,” Mr. Fakir said.
Although the BRN usually neither confirms nor denies responsibility for specific attacks, Mr. Fakir said that the group was not behind a series of small bombings that shook Bangkok on 2 August.
The bombs wounded 4 people and embarrassed the government during a regional security summit. And 2 suspects from the south have been arrested in connection with the attacks.
“We will not attack beyond the 3 southernmost provinces because we do not want to be perceived as terrorists,” Mr. Fakir said. “We have our territory. Why should we venture out of it? … Someone else must be behind it.”