Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The government of Thailand today signed the first historic peace agreement with Muslim rebels active in the south of the country, on the border with Malaysia in an effort to put an end to a bloody conflict that has dragged on for decades. The official act was signed in Kuala Lumpur by Bangkok officials and leaders of the National Revolution Front (BRN), one of the most active groups in the separatist struggle. The annual official meeting between the Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak is also planned for later this afternoon and in the context of the summit, the two leaders will discuss among other things, the issue of guerrillas active in the south of Thailand and regulation of trade borders.
Kuala Lumpur has played a role as an intermediary in negotiations between the two sides and, most likely, will host any future peace meeting between the Thai government and separatist leaders. The document signed today in the Malaysian capital will launch a "dialogue process" in an attempt to secure to a more stable and lasting peace in the near future. However, this is the first serious, concrete step on the path to peace.
Local political experts explain that, given the fragmented nature of the separatist rebel movements and, together with the influences that individual leaders exercise in their area, the road ahead will be long and complex. Paradorn Pattanatabutr, general secretary of the Thai Security Council, emphasizes that "it is a further attempt made by the government to tackle the unrest," but does not involve "an immediate end to the conflict." Taib Hassan, BRN delegate and signatory of the document, assures us that "we will do our best to solve the problems. We will tell our people to work together to solve the problems."
In Thailand, about 85% of the population is Buddhist. The southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani have a clear Muslim majority and were once an independent Malaysian sultanate. They are the stronghold and base of operations of Islamic fundamentalist and separatist groups responsible in the recent years for attacks and violence, especially on the border with Malaysia.
The current tensions started in 2004 because of a separatist rebellion in the Muslim-majority regions. In six years more than 5 thousand people have been killed in attacks and summary killings. In the long series of deaths, the most common target of the Malay Muslims are police and teachers: Muslims denounce an attempt to impose Buddhist culture in state schools and since 2008, 153 teachers have been killed.