Chettha Thanajaro on Wednesday ruled out planned peace talks with a Muslim separatist group aimed at ending violence in the kingdom's south.

The talks between army chief General Chaisit Shinawatra and Wan Abd al-Qadir Che Man, head of the umbrella group Bersatu, had been expected early this month, but Chettha said a media glare had led to the cancellation of talks.

"The army chief will not meet (with the Bersatu leader) because there is too much publicity on both sides, thus we'd rather stop it," he said.
  
The talks had been indefinitely postponed "for the time being", according to an army spokesman.

Chettha rejected reports that the separatist leader had insisted that regional autonomy be discussed as a pre-condition for the talks, an element which Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had rejected from the outset.

"The meeting should have produced only positive results and changes in attitude," Chettha said, adding that he regretted the missed opportunity for authorities to gain a crucial insight into what was driving the unrest in the majority Muslim southern provinces.


"The army chief will not meet (with the Bersatu leader) because there is too much publicity on both sides, thus we'd rather stop it,"

General Chaisit Shinawatra

U-turn

Thaksin initially agreed to the discussions, saying the government was not recognising the group but wanted to obtain information to help it quell the troubles that have seen almost 200 people killed this year.

However the proposal met with resistance, particularly from Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh who is responsible for security affairs and who said the talks were dangerous and would boost the status of the separatists.

Thailand's south has endured decades of separatist violence but after a period of relative peace, trouble flared at the start of this year with bombings and murders targeting officials, security forces and Buddhist monks.

An elderly Buddhist man was decapitated at the weekend and early on Tuesday an important Chinese Buddhist tomb in Pattani town was set on fire and ransacked.