Southern Thailand peace talks on agenda as Thai PM Prayuth visits Malaysia

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha held talks with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak on Monday during which they were expected to discuss the deadly Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand along their shared border. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha held talks with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak on Monday during which they were expected to discuss the deadly Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand along their shared border. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha held talks with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak on Monday during which they were expected to discuss the deadly Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand along their shared border.

Mr Prayuth arrived on Monday morning for the several-hour visit, his first to Thailand's southern neighbour since the former military chief seized power in a May coup.

Mr Prayuth's regime has said it wants to restart Malaysia-hosted peace talks between Thailand and Muslim rebels that began under the previous Thai government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom Mr Prayuth deposed.

Those talks made little headway, and eventually collapsed last year as Ms Yingluck's government became engulfed by a political crisis that ultimately led to the coup. Prospects for a resumption of the dialogue now look slim following deadly post-coup militant attacks in southern Thailand and a subsequent fresh security crackdown.

A Malaysia government statement on Monday said Mr Prayuth's visit "will provide the opportunity for both sides to explore ways to further strengthen the existing cooperation between the two countries in various areas such as the southern Thailand peace dialogue process, trade and investment" and other spheres.

Buddhist Thailand colonised its predominantly Muslim deep south more than a century ago, and insurgencies have repeatedly flared.

More than 6,000 people have been killed or wounded during the current decade-long eruption. Most have been civilians.

Muslim-majority Malaysia - where some insurgent leaders are believed to be holed up - hosted several rounds of secretive peace talks last year between Thai officials and representatives of a rebel group.

But several shadowy insurgent organisations are waging the rebellion, and it has remained unclear how much control the rebel negotiators have over the larger conflict.

Rights groups accuse Thai authorities of widespread human rights abuses - including extra-judicial killings - in the southern region and of sweeping aside the distinct local culture through forced assimilation projects.