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Thailand and Muslim separatist rebels agree to end decades-long conflict

  • A Malaysian facilitator announced on Wednesday that the Thai government and Muslim separatist rebels in southern Thailand have reached an agreement to end their conflict.
  • The talks, held over two days in Kuala Lumpur, will resume over the next two months to finalize details of the peace plan.
  • The breakthrough comes after a year-long stall in dialogue due to the Thai election, with both parties now willing to sign documents.

Malaysia’s facilitator said Wednesday that the Thai government and Muslim separatist rebels in southern Thailand have agreed in principle on a roadmap to try to end a decades-long Muslim insurgency.

The sides held two days of talks in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and will meet again over the next two months to iron out details of the peace plan, said Malaysian facilitator Zulkifli Zainal Abidin.

“It is a major breakthrough after the dialogue was stalled the past year due to the Thai election,” he told a news conference.

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“The (peace plan), if the technical teams agree, will be signed as soon as possible. … There is light at the end of the tunnel. Both parties are willing to put pen on paper. Previously there was no talk of signing any documents.”

Malaysia and Thai leaders

Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, Malaysia’s facilitator of peace talks for southern Thailand, center, Chatchai Bangchaud, from Southern Border Provinces of Thailand, left, and Ustaz Anas Abdul Rahman from Barisan Revolution Nasional Melayu Patani are seen after a press conference at a hotel in Malaysia on Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Malaysia has hosted and facilitated talks between the separatist groups and the Thai government since 2013, but little progress has been made.

Almost 7,000 people have died in the insurgency in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, the only ones with Muslim majorities, since 2004. The fighting is intermittent but brutal, with the separatists carrying out drive-by shootings and bombings, and the government accused of torturing suspects and other abuses.

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Southern Thai Muslims — whose ethnicity, culture and language differ from the Buddhist majority — believe they are treated as second-class citizens and have the sympathy of many Malaysians, about 60% of whom are Muslim.

Anas Abdulrahman, the head of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional -– the largest of the insurgents groups in southern Thai — told reporters that he has high hopes for a lasting solution under the new Thai government led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. The Thai government last year appointed Chatchai Bangchuad, the first civilian to head the talks.

Chatchai said that any signing of the peace plan will have to depend on the outcome of the technical discussions.

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