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Thailand eyes peace talks with insurgents 'soon'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Thailand wants to hold peace talks with militant groups behind a festering insurgency in the south "soon", the head of the kingdom's highest security body said Wednesday.

The comments come amid a recent spike in attacks in the Muslim-majority south bordering Malaysia and ahead of a meeting between Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak on Thursday.

The pair will discuss the nine-year insurgency, which has claimed more than 5,500 lives, and the possibility of Malaysia hosting talks with the militants.

"I hope that talks will happen soon," said Lieutenant-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of Thailand's National Security Council, who will join Yingluck in this week's talks in Kuala Lumpur.

"Malaysia will facilitate (the talks) by arranging the venue but will have no role in talks," he said, stressing the need for "core militant leaders... active in mounting the violence" to be identified and engaged in any talks.

"Otherwise it will not solve the problem," he said, explaining the NSC was still establishing the authority of militant leaders to negotiate.

Thailand's southernmost provinces suffer almost daily gun and bomb attacks by shadowy insurgents fighting for greater autonomy, a demand Thai authorities have totally rejected.

Thousands of Buddhists and Muslims have been killed in the conflict since early 2004.

Members of Thailand's security forces and civilians accused of collaboration with the authorities are frequently targeted with ambushes and roadside bombs.

The possibility of peace has been dogged by the complex make-up of the insurgency and doubts persist over the level of control that older, exiled leaders known to Thai authorities, exert over the younger -- and more violent -- fighters on the ground.

Analysts also question the effectiveness of Thailand's military response to the insurgency, although Yingluck's administration has recently amended its language to recognise a political dimension to the conflict.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130227/thailand-eyes-peace-talks-insurgents-soon