Thai authorities sceptical of ceasefire offer by separatists

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Bangkok, Jul 18 (UNI) Thai authorities are assessing the authenticity of a televised announcement to the end of four and a half years of separatist violence in the country's south by a little known insurgent group that has taken the country by surprise.

Thai Army chief General Anupong Paojinda said the ceasefire offer, claimed to have been mediated by a senior Thai government leader, was lacking in credibility.

Thai state television showed the announcement by three Muslim men in a video recording made abroad. The three claimed to have the backing of 11 insurgent factions in Thailand's three Muslim-majority southern border provinces.

More than 3,500 people have been killed since January 2004 in separatist violence in the three southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat that are also ethnically and linguistically distinct from Buddhist-majority Thailand.

According to the army chief, the group calling itself Thailand United Southern Underground (TUSU) did not have control over the other insurgent groups. One of its spokesmen in the video recording was a former insurgent who had failed to win the backing of the other separatist outfits, he said.

Senior military intelligence officers were quoted as saying they had never heard of TUSU before.

The ceasefire announcement in Malay translated into Thai by an interpreter in the video was telecast at mid-day yesterday. It was also telecast by satellite to several countries.

The three men in the video said the ceasefire had come into effect on 14 July.

According to media reports from south Thailand, the three men in the video have been identified as members of the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), the oldest separatist outfit in south Thailand. Academics and peace activists too are doubtful of the authenticity of the ceasefire announcement.

Chidchanok Rahimmula deputy dean of the political science faculty in Pattani's famous Prince of Songkla University said the ceasefire announcement did not seem genuine.

"As far as I know there are several separatist groups active in the deep South and each of them is highly independent," she said.

Pradit Rattanakomol, chairman of the Islamic Committee in Ayutthya province said many separatist groups are involved in the southern Thai insurgency.

"I'm afraid the southern unrest could get worse if the men who announced the ceasefire are not the true separatist leaders," a senior Thai intelligence officer said.

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