Thai military aims to revive peace talks with Muslim rebels

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand's military government is to revive talks aimed at bringing peace to the troubled south, where Muslim separatists have fought the government for over a decade, a senior military official said on Monday.

Mr Udomdet Sitabutr, secretary-general of the military's National Council for Peace and Order, said talks, brokered by Malaysia, with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) insurgent group would restart after stalling last year.

A low-level insurgency in the south has claimed more than 5,700 lives since 2004 following the resurgence of a dormant Muslim separatist movement.

"The talks are still alive but the details must be fleshed out so that we can move forward and draw up a road map to peace," Mr Udomdet told reporters.

"Thailand trusts Malaysia as the mediator. We must prepare details to go into the talks."

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist but parts of the south, in particular the three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, are majority Muslim and resistance to central government rule has existed there for decades.

Attempts by the state to impose Buddhist Thai culture on the region and Thai language in schools have only helped to create animosity on both sides.

Successive governments have failed to bring an end to the violence, which includes shootings, beheadings, bombings and arson attacks. Rights groups say both the rebels and the Thai army have committed war crimes.

The recently ousted government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra began peace talks last year with the BRN, or National Revolutionary Front, in Malaysia although critics said the meetings did not have the support of all rebel groups.

The talks soon collapsed and efforts to revive them were put to one side while Yingluck's government focused on containing street demonstrations designed to topple her from last November.

She was ordered to step down by a court in May after being found guilty of abuse of power and Thailand's military seized power in a bloodless coup on May 22.

Some had feared the new military rulers would resurrect more aggressive counter-insurgency tactics in what is already one of Southeast Asia's deadliest unresolved conflicts.

In the latest violence, gunmen opened fire before dawn on Monday at a mosque in Pattani where around a dozen Muslims were praying, police said, and a 66-year-old man was killed. The attack came after the start of the Ramadan holy month at the weekend.

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