Oct 9, 2006

Tun Mahathir confirms talks between Thai govt, Muslim groups

Ex-premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad brokered talks between Thai officials and Muslim groups from Thailand's south to help resolve the conflict there, his office confirmed for the first time today.

The revelation came amid indications from Thailand's new government that authorities want to hold peace talks with insurgent groups from the country's Muslim-majority southern provinces.

A spokesman from Mahathir's office confirmed the ex-premier had arranged meetings between Thai officials and Muslim leaders from Thailand's south in the last quarter of 2005.

"Yes, he did try to broker a ceasefire, that started off some time last year and there have been about two meetings so far," he said.

The meetings were in Langkawi, which is close to the countries' shared border and where Mahathir has business interests, he said.

Mahathir, 81, was quoted as saying in a report yesterday that he had initiated a peace plan and that it was up to Thai authorities to continue the efforts.

"My mission is now complete. It is now up to the Thai authorities to proceed with follow-up action," Mahathir was quoted as saying in the Star newspaper.

Met with Thai king

The elder statesman said he initiated peace talks after discussions with former Thai premier Anand Panyarachun and had also consulted with Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"I sought an audience with the king in October following Anand's advice. The king agreed with Anand's suggestion that I be involved in the peace initiative for southern Thailand," said Mahathir.

Several insurgent groups, including Bersatu and the Patani United Liberation Organisation, attended the meetings, while the Thai government was represented by Lieutenant-General Vaipot Srinual, Mahathir's spokesman said.

Malaysian deputy premier Najib Razak said Mahathir had brokered the talks as the head of a non-government organisation and that Malaysia would not intefere in Thailand's internal politics, reports said today.

Mahathir, currently in a stand-off with the Malaysian government for criticising its policies, has spent his time since retiring as premier in 2003 lobbying for world peace.

Thailand's coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin last week confirmed that authorities want to hold peace talks with insurgent and a Thai official said discussions would start early next month.

Separatist violence and other unrest in southern Thailand has killed more than 1,500 since January 2004.

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