Thailand to open "peace dialogue" with southern rebels

BANGKOK - Thailand is to start peace talks with Muslim rebel groups operating in the south, a senior security official said on Wednesday, signalling a possible breakthrough in a conflict that has claimed over 5,000 lives.
The rebel groups have never clearly stated their demands since the insurgency flared up in 2004 but they are thought to want more autonomy or a separate state in a region that was part of a Malay sultanate until annexed by Thailand in 1909.
"This is the first step. The start of a peace dialogue with representatives from Muslim rebel groups," Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC), said from Kuala Lumpur.
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