BANGKOK • Peace talks between Thailand's military government and Muslim separatists ended yesterday with no breakthrough but with an agreement to meet again, and with the insurgents denying responsibility for a string of bomb attacks last month.
A decades-old insurgency in the Muslim-majority southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat has claimed more than 6,500 lives since it escalated in 2004, according to the independent monitoring group Deep South Watch.
Talks between the government and the insurgents began in 2013 under prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra but stalled after the military overthrew her government in 2014.
MARA Pattani, an insurgent umbrella group involved in the negotiations, said at a news conference in Malaysia, where the talks were held, that both sides had agreed to more dialogue.
The group said it would consider the creation of "safety zones" proposed by the Thai government to show good faith.
General Aksara Kerdphol, the government's lead negotiator, said MARA Pattani had denied playing a role in the recent violence, including a string of bombings that targeted several tourist towns last month.
"The other party told us they were not responsible for the violence and that they would cooperate with the government in building a peaceful situation," he said.
The bombings killed four Thais and wounded dozens of people, including foreigners, and were linked by police to southern insurgents.
Analysts say the main group believed to be behind the bombings, Barisan Revolusi Nasional, launched the attacks after having been excluded from the talks.
The Thai authorities, meanwhile, defused a car bomb in Narathiwat early yesterday, shortly before the negotiations began in Kuala Lumpur.
"An explosive ordnance disposal team defused a device, an 80kg gas cylinder, inside a stolen milk truck," said Colonel Yutthanam Petchmuang, a deputy spokesman for the army's Internal Security Operations Command.
He declined to comment on whether the planned bomb attack had been aimed at coinciding with the talks and said an investigation was under way.
A Thai military court yesterday approved an arrest warrant for a suspect linked to a fire bomb attack on a department store in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat last month.
It was the fourth arrest warrant issued in relation to the recent attacks. One warrant has been issued for attacks in Phuket and two for attacks in Prachuap Khiri Khan's Hua Hin district.
REUTERS, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK