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Thailand and Muslim group to continue peace talks

Thailand and a Muslim rebel group to continue peace negotiations aimed at ending nearly a decade of conflict in the country's three southern most provinces, Al Jazeera reports. Ahmad Zamzamin, a former senior aide of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, is facilitating the talks. It is indicated that the decision was reached after negotiations in Malaysia. The statement specified that negotiations will continue on April 29. Thursday’s first round of talks between Thai security officials and representatives of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional group in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, however, was marred by a bomb explosion and a shooting incident that killed five people, according to Al Jazeera.

A roadside bomb exploded in the Chor Ai-rong district of Narathiwat province, 840 kilometres south of Bangkok, killing three soldiers who were patrolling the area, said the 4th Army Region commander, Lieutenant General Udomchai Thammasarorat. Five other soldiers were also wounded.

A separate shooting incident was also reported in Narathiwat killing two Buddhist civilians.

More than 5,300 people have been killed in the conflict in the majority-Muslim provinces in Thailand, which are under emergency law.

Thai media reported that nine groups were due to join the talks, including the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). Hassan Taib, head of its liaison office in Malaysia, signed the agreement with Paradorn to pursue the talks on Feb. 28.

"The BRN are the main group instigating violence in the south and they are who we should be talking to, but they will need time to reduce the number of attacks in the south," Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the Thai National Security Council, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

"Our key goal today is to reduce violence."

At least 27 people have died in the three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat since Feb. 28.

The three provinces were once part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by predominantly Buddhist Thailand in 1909.

It remains unclear what the Muslim groups want, although some say they are seeking autonomy or self-rule.

That was flatly ruled out by the Thai government on Thursday.

"One thing we will never do is break up Thailand. There will be no independent state of Pattani or special administrative zone," Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobumrung told reporters.

In the past, Thailand and Malaysia have attempted, but eventually failed, to broker talks with the rebels.

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