By Riyaz ul Khaliq
The Thai government's chief peace negotiator has reiterated that he is "ready to sit and talk with anybody," according to media reports on Monday.
Gen. Udomchai Thammasaroraj's statement comes after Mara Patani -- a separatist umbrella group which claims to be a political wing of insurgent groups clashing with state forces -- recently witnessed change in its leadership, the Bangkok Post reported.
“We want to end the insurgency at the negotiating table,” the former Thai army general said.
Malaysian authorities are brokering the peace talks initiated between Thai government and the Mara Patani six years ago to end the conflict in the region.
In a recent shake-up, Sama-ae Kho Zari, 60, took over the Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front (BRN), a major Patani independence movement in northern Malaysia, from Dulloh Waemanor.
The restive region has recently been witnessing violent attacks surge. A Muslim imam and two Buddhist monks were killed in two different incidents, giving rise to communal tensions.
Udomchai, who served in the conflict-ridden region during his military-service days, said: “I think the BRN made some adjustments to make sure it would deal with the situation correctly.”
He was appointed to negotiate on behalf of the military regime in 2018.
Surin Palare, secretary of the Islamic Council of Thailand, expressed deep concern on the ensuing attacks, “fearing it could escalate tensions between Buddhists and Muslims”, the newspaper reported.
In a statement issued to the media, military-appointed Thai Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha vowed to continue peace talks with militant groups to show the world that “we have adopted all kinds of measures, not only law enforcement, to restore peace in the southern region of Thailand”.
“The Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC] understands the measures taken by Thailand in dealing with the issue,” The Nation newspaper quoted Prayut as saying.
He added: “Human-rights activists and non-governmental organizations should also understand the situation."
The insurgency in southern Thailand originated in 1948 as an ethnic and religious conflict in the historical Malay Patani region.
Armed insurgent groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but the insurgency faded in the 1990s.
In 2004, a rejuvenated armed movement -- composed of numerous local cells of fighters loosely grouped around the BRN -- emerged. Mara Patani is an umbrella body of the groups, including Patani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla. The group is fighting for secession from the country.
The confrontation is one of the deadliest low-intensity conflicts on the planet, with more than 7,000 people killed and over 11,000 injured since 2004.