Thai peace talk ends with separatists denying role in bomb attacks

September 2, 2016 6:42 AM EDT

Thai soldiers inspect the scene of a car bomb blast outside a hotel in the southern province of Pattani, Thailand August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom

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(Corrects description of group to show it represent separatists, not insurgents, paragraph four in this September 2nd story)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Peace talks between Thailand's military government and Muslim separatists ended on Friday with no breakthrough but an agreement to meet again, and with the insurgents denying responsibility for a string of bombs 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, a separatist umbrella group involved in the negotiations, said in a news conference in Malaysia, where the talks took place, 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 Thai government's lead negotiator, told Reuters that MARA Pattani denied playing a role in 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," Aksara said.

The string of bombings killed four Thais and wounded dozens of people, including foreigners, and was linked by police to the southern insurgents.

Analysts say the main group believed to be behind the bombings, Barisan Revolusi Nasional, launched the attacks after having been left out of talks.

Thai authorities defused a car bomb in Narathiwat early on Friday, shortly before the negotiations began in Kuala Lumpur.

"An explosive ordinance disposal team defused a device, an 80 kg gas cylinder, inside a stolen milk truck," said Colonel Yutthanam Petchmuang, a deputy spokesman for the army's Internal Security Operations Command.

Yutthanam declined to comment on whether the attempted attack was aimed at coinciding with the talks and said an investigation was going on.

(Reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak, Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Cod Satrusayang; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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