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Thailand, rebel group agree to seek peace talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Thailand's government on Thursday signed its first-ever agreement with a rebel group in its Muslim-majority south, pledging to work toward peace talks aimed at ending a festering insurgency.

The potentially historic deal was signed in Kuala Lumpur between Thai officials and a representative of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebel group ahead of a visit to Malaysia by Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck was to meet later in the day with her host, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, for annual talks set to include the nine-year insurgency and the possibility of Malaysia hosting future Thai negotiations with the militants.

There has been a recent spike in attacks along Thailand's border with Muslim-majority Malaysia, where the nine-year insurgency has claimed more than 5,500 lives.

The "general consensus document to launch a dialogue process for peace" was signed by Lieutenant-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary general of Thailand's National Security Council, and Hassan Taib of the BRN.

"Thank Allah we will do our best to solve the problem. We will tell our people to work together to solve the problems," Hassan told reporters after the ceremony.

Hassan was identified as the "chief of the BRN liaison office in Malaysia."

Officials involved in the ceremony otherwise offered little comment on the agreement and a text of the pledge was not handed out.

Barisan Revolusi Nasional, which in Malay means "National Revolutionary Front", is one of several shadowy groups blamed for the unrest in Thailand.

It remains to be seen whether other groups will fall in line behind the BRN.

Prospects for peace have 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.

On Wednesday, Paradorn said in Bangkok that he hoped peace talks could start "soon," with Malaysia providing the venue.

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

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130227/thailand-rebel-group-agree-seek-peace-talks