Thai PM says peace talks fruitless in Muslim south 

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said Wednesday that separatists fighting in Muslim-majority provinces have refused to take up his offer to launch peace talks.

"As of now, there has been no progress on starting negotiations, because that would require the agreement of both sides. So there are no talks for now," he told reporters.

"My government is still adhering a policy of non-violence, but cooperation from the people is crucial," he said.

Since Surayud took office following a military coup last year, he has made a series of peace gestures to the militants fighting along the southern border with Malaysia.

But the violence has only escalated since the coup, and the government has deployed thousands more troops and paramilitary forces to the region.

Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday that despite the peace gestures, Thailand still has no concrete strategy to end state-sanctioned abuses.

The report warned that the conflict was degenerating into a brutal armed conflict in which 89 percent of the fatalities have been civilians.

Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram welcomed the report and said he believed it would help the international community understand why Thailand has struggled to find ways of reining in the shadowy insurgency.

"The international community will have a positive attitude toward Thailand. The report is fair and does us justice," he said.

"We always regret the loss of life, regardless of who the victims are," he said.

More than 2,500 people have been killed since the separatist unrest erupted nearly four years ago. The region was annexed by Buddhist Thailand a century ago.

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