Bangkok - As unrest in southern Thailand shows little signs of abating, a Reuters report on Aug 29 said the Thaksin government was engaged in secret talks with the illegal separatist group, Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), in Switzerland. But the government was quick to dismiss the report, which quoted an unnamed Pulo spokesman, as fiction.
"We have not had negotiations with any party," Thai Defence Minister Thammarak Isarang-kura na Ayudhaya said.
PULO, comprising Thai-Malay separatists, is one of several groups blamed for violence in the deep South that has resulted in more than 800 deaths since January 2004.
The Reuters report also quoted an unidentified PULO spokesman as saying that his group was fighting for the independence of Pattani - one of the three Muslim-majority provinces in the deep South - and that tens of thousands of people were prepared to die for the cause.
The spokesman also said that PULO did not have links with international terrorist groups but was prepared to carry its fight to Bangkok and the country's tourist destinations, particularly Pattaya and Phuket.
Defence Minister Thammarak said the Reuters report only reflected that PULO – which was regarded as a serious threat during the 1970s and 1980s - was "struggling".
Deputy Minister Chidchai Wannasathit felt the report was released only to give PULO prominence.
In an editorial, The Nation said PULO's claim that it was the driving force behind the insurgency in the South "may be a little ludicrous, given the yawning generation gap between the ageing former PULO fighters and today's relatively youthful insurgents".
While PULO may be the least of the government's problems, the newspaper noted that "the actual masterminds of the sustained bloody campaign, which has seriously disrupted law and order in the restive region, appear to have succeeded to a certain extent in sowing the seeds of suspicion, if not outright hatred, between Malays and non-Malays, between Muslims and non-Muslims".
"All this is happening while the government continues to fumble with one half-baked measure after another, in a desperate attempt to restore a semblance of rule of law, which remains elusive as the situation degenerates even further into lawlessness and chaos," the newspaper said.
* Thousands of fighters ready to sacrifice themselves (Utusan Malaysia, Aug 28)
* Government denies talking peace with Pulo in Switzerland (Bangkok Post, Aug 30)
* A resurgence of Pulo is unlikely (The Nation, Aug 3)