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Thai Military, Muslim Rebels to Hold Talks

October 06, 2006|From the Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand — The military has agreed to talks with Muslim rebels involved in a bloody insurgency in southern Thailand, the powerful army chief said Thursday, reversing a policy of the elected government deposed in a coup last month.

Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who led the bloodless Sept. 19 coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said officials from certain rebel factions had contacted a top army officer and requested talks.

He did not indicate whether any date had been set.

"I have agreed to the talks," Sondhi said. "I stress that these will be talks, not negotiations."

Wan Kadir Che Man, a leader of the Bersatu rebel group -- believed to be an umbrella group of Muslim insurgents -- confirmed that members of his organization had been in contact with "certain Thai authorities" about peace talks.

However, he said in an e-mail that Bersatu had not yet received an official request to hold talks.

"But if the coming government handles it correctly, there is no reason why an internal conflict among ourselves could not be resolved," he wrote.

The coup leaders have appointed Surayud Chulanont, a former army commander, to serve as interim prime minister until an election promised for October 2007.

Surayud is expected to name a Cabinet next week.

Sondhi, a Muslim, has been seen as a potential healing force for the conflict. About 90% of Thailand's more than 63 million citizens are Buddhists. The country's three southernmost provinces are the only ones with Muslim majorities.

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