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Thai army chief agrees to talks with rebel groups

Thai army chief agrees to talks with rebel groups

The Thai army chief who staged last month's coup said yesterday he has agreed to hold the first talks with Muslim rebels since an insurgency erupted in 2004, an abrupt policy change from the administration of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who led the bloodless coup against Thaksin on September 19, said that officials from certain rebel factions had contacted a top army commander and requested talks.
"I have agreed to the talks," Sondhi said. "I stress that these will be talks, not negotiations." He did not indicate if any date had been set.
One rebel leader, meanwhile, urged authorities to investigate Thaksin for crimes against humanity, saying the ousted leader should be tried at the International Court of Justice for alleged murders and disappearances of suspected insurgents.
"Thaksin Shinawatra's hands are full of blood," said exiled Muslim rebel leader Lukman B. Lima, head of the Pattani United Liberation Organization, one of several groups fighting for a separate Muslim state in southern Thailand.
In an e-mailed message from Sweden, Lukman said Thailand's incoming interim government will not be able to fully solve the divisions in the south unless they "bring Thaksin and some of his generals ... to the court of justice in the Hague."
Thaksin's government, which came under harsh criticism for its strong-arm approach to the violence, had repeatedly declined to hold any talks with Muslim insurgents - a decision that had put him at odds with Sondhi who had urged a peaceful approach to ending the violence.
Thaksin, who was also accused of widespread corruption and abuse of power, was widely detested in Thailand's three Muslim-majority provinces where violence flared in January 2004. He deployed thousands of troops to the region, and shifted commanders and tactics many times. He ordered all-out manhunts for militants, armed teachers and villagers and imposed draconian laws.
Many moderate Muslims said that the conflict could never be resolved as long as he remained in power.
The government's heavy-handed response also bred discontent in the army that was one of the factors driving the military coup of September 19. Less than three weeks before the coup, Sondhi had proposed talks with insurgents, but Thaksin's government shot down the idea.
"They see that only talks can end the violence," Sondhi said of the insurgents. "If they are seeking cooperation with us, that kind of approach is OK with me."
Sondhi's coup was welcomed by many Thais, who saw the ouster of Thaksin as a good chance to resolve the bloody Muslim insurgency that has killed more than 1,700 people.
Sondhi, one of the few Muslims to rise to such a prominent position in Thailand, has been seen as a potential healing force for the conflict.
Violence has waxed and waned for decades in Thailand's three southernmost provinces - Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat - which were annexed a century ago from what had been an Islamic sultanate. They are the only provinces with Muslim majorities in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.
In October 2004, the government quashed a demonstration in the Tak Bai district of Narathiwat, arresting more than 1,000 men after subduing them with gunfire. About 85 people died, most of them in custody when they suffocated after being stacked prone four-to-six deep on trucks that were taking them to detention.


Updated : 2021-02-27 19:02 GMT+08:00