The Thai government has opened formal peace negotiations with Muslim separatist leaders aimed at ending months of unrest in the country’s south. Meanwhile, three soldiers have been killed in a bomb attack.
Ahead of the talks, which began in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, on Thursday, the secretary-general of Thailand's National Security said the government hoped to establish a good working relationship with representatives of the National Revolution Front (BRN).
"Today's main focus is to reduce violence," said Paradorn Pattanatabut (pictured left). "Today we will focus on building mutual trust and good relations." At the same time though, he warned that the bloodshed in the south of the country, an insurgency could not be expected to end overnight.
"I am confident that they [the talks] will communicate our message to their militants but because BRN is a large organization we have to give them some time," he said.
Some have expressed doubts, however, about what the BRN representatives at the Kuala Lumpur negotiations can deliver.
"I am not confident either they are the real core leaders," Thailand's deputy prime minister, Chalerm Yubamrung, said in Bangkok on Thursday. "There are many groups operating in the south and not all of them agree on talks ... After talks today we will know whether they are genuine or fake."
There have been incidents of violence in the south of Thailand virtually on a daily basis since the insurgency broke out in the mainly Muslim region in 2004. More than 5,000 people have died over the past 9 years, including three members of the Thai security forces who were killed in Narathiwat province on Thursday.
A police spokesman said the three were killed and five others wounded when militants detonated an improvised explosive device as they were on foot patrol.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm said the attack was likely an attempt to disrupt the peace talks.
pfd/hc (AFP, AP)