Peace eludes Thailand’s mainly Muslim south

Military under pressure to solve separatist problem plaguing Buddhist-majority country’s Malay-speaking provinces.

Thailand’s government is under pressure to resolve a festering ethnic conflict in the country’s deep south.

The country’s southernmost provinces have a population of 80 percent Malay-speaking Muslims.

The land used to be a Muslim sultanate but was annexed by Bangkok more than a century ago.

There has always been a campaign for independence from Buddhist-majority Thailand, but it has intensified over the last 16 years.

Since 2004 an estimated 6,500 people have died in violence in four provinces – Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songhkla – according to the monitoring group Deep South Watch.

During the 2014 military coup, Thailand’s generals promised they would restore law and order. But it mainly focused on Bangkok and government agencies.

The army has held informal talks on regional autonomy with the separatists. However, the dialogue has yet to produce a major breakthrough.

In fact, the main separatist group boycotted the talks.