Thai government to resume peace talks with Muslim insurgents
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Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan (C) speaks during a news conference after a National Security Council meeting as Thailand's national police chief Jakthip Chaijinda (R) and The Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Arm
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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's military government said on Thursday peace talks with Muslim separatists operating in the far south of the country would resume in Malaysia, but no agreement would be signed unless the insurgents observed a ceasefire.
The separatists from the far-south Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have been blamed for an unprecedented string of bombings last month in several tourist towns that killed four people and wounded dozens.
A decades-old insurgency in the deep south of predominately Buddhist Thailand flared in 2004 and more than 6,500 people have been killed since then, according to the independent monitoring group Deep South Watch.
Talks between the government and insurgents began in 2013 under the civilian government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra but have stalled since the military overthrew her government in 2014.
Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said negotiations would restart on Friday in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia which has been trying to broker negotiations.
General Aksara Kerdphol, the Thai government's lead negotiator, told Reuters the rebels had to show good faith by ending violence.
"I have been instructed to tell the groups that there must be a peaceful situation on the ground before we are willing to sign any document," he said.
Malaysia's Bernama state news agency said Thai officials would meet representatives of the MARA Pattani "separatist umbrella group".
Bangkok-based analyst Anthony Davis, at security consulting firm IHS-Jane's, told Reuters a ceasefire was unlikely as the main group behind the violence, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), had been left out of the talks.
"BRN has made it entirely clear that they reject the current process of peace talks between Bangkok and the group of small factions-in-exile in Malaysia called MARA Pattani," he said.
The three ethnic-Malay majority provinces were part of a Malay Sultanate before being annexed by Thailand more than a century ago.
The Aug. 11-12 bombings in several towns including Hua Hin, Surat Thai and on Phuket island spread alarm in a tourist industry that had been largely spared a spill-over of violence from the insurgency.
Authorities at first dismissed any connection between the bombs and the separatists and instead blamed the military government's mainstream political opponents.
The attacks came days after voters approved a military-drafted constitution in a national referendum. The charter was roundly opposed in the far south.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Cod Satrusayang; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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