KUALA LUMPUR, June 2013 – Thailand and rebels from its Muslim-majority south agreed Thursday to scale back violence in the restive region during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan starting in July.
Talks which began on March 28 have so far failed to end near-daily violence in the three provinces bordering Malaysia that has killed more than 5,500 in the past decade.
“In principle, both sides agreed on the reduction of violence during the holy month of Ramadan aimed at saving lives,” said a press statement issued after the third round of talks in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
“This is in accordance to the spirit of the month of Ramadan and as an expression of sincerity, goodwill and trust on the part of both parties.”
The statement said further details on achieving “the desired violence-free situation” in the south would be provided later. The parties will only meet again after Ramadan, which will last from July 9 to August 7.
Thailand earlier Thursday, before the day-long talks, had expressed impatience at the continuing insurgent violence in the south.
Thai National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut, Bangkok’s lead negotiator, told reporters he needed “concrete outcomes” to reduce the violence “so I can answer to the people”.
Five Thai security personnel were killed in a fresh spate of gun and bomb attacks two weeks ago, which the government blamed on insurgents seeking to disrupt the fragile peace process.
Despite two rounds of peace talks since March, the bloodshed has raised questions over how much control rebel leaders have over radical militants.
The rebels had in April demanded “liberation” from the Thai kingdom and made a series of demands. But Paradorn has insisted that discussions are not about autonomy but about local administration.
The statement issued after the talks said the rebel group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) would provide “detailed clarifications” on the five demands they previously made.
The Thai government will respond “at the earliest possible date”, it said. The statement gave no further details.
Thai authorities had floated the idea of handing some local decision-making to the provinces dominated by ethnic Malay Muslims. But Paradorn had said the issue was unlikely to come up in this round.