Bangkok, 2 May (AKI) - In a gesture aimed at ending the violence in Thailand's Muslim south, Bangkok has announced a proposed amnesty for Islamic militants who have been involved in attacks that have killed more than 2,100 people since January 2004. The offer of amnesty which was made on Tuesday, coincided with the first official visit to Thailand of the president of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).
"An amnesty will be granted to all people who have been involved in the ongoing violence in the southern border provinces, provided they did not commit an offence under the country's criminal code," the Thai foreign ministry said in a statement.
No other details have been offered on the nature of the proposal, but the offer has been welcomed with satisfaction by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC president who was in Bangkok on Tuesday, leading a six-member OIC delegation to Thailand on an invitation of the Thai government.
"The OIC delegation reaffirmed their support for the prime minister's conciliatory gesture and policies towards the Thai Muslim community," Ihsanoglu told reporters in the Thai capital, after a meeting with representatives of the Muslim community in Thailand. The OIC secretary general also had a tour of the country's Muslim-majority south.
Ihsanoglu stressed that while Thai Muslims have to be faithful to the country in which they live, Bangkok also has to repect the community.
''The Muslim ummah who are minorities are expected to be good citizens and loyal to the country they live in, and should have their own cultural, political and economic rights within the rule of law," Ihsanoglu said. "And we expect the authorities to respect the rule of law as well. Without having the balance, it will be difficult to sustain peace," he added.
Ihsanoglu intends to present a report on the situation of Muslim minorities in southern Thailand to the upcoming Islamic Conference of foreign ministers (ICFM) which will be held in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, on May 15-17. Thailand has had observer status with the 56-member OIC since 1998.
Thailand's Muslim south, made up of the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, was annexed by Thailand in the beginning of the 1900s, after a series of accords with Britain, which was at the time the colonial power of neighbouring Malaysia.
The population in the three provinces are ethnically Malay, speak a Malay dialect known as Yawi, and are almost exclusively Muslim. The rest of Thailand has a population that is mainly Buddhist, speaks Thai and is ethnically Thai, Lao or Chinese.
These differences have been aggravated by an aggressive policy adopted by Bangkok which has always tried to reject them and used forced to make the three provinces more like the rest of Thailand.
This trend was interrupted by prime minister Surayud Chulanont, who was put in power after former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a military coup on 19 September.
Chulanont has said that a resolution to the conflict in the south is a priority of his government.
The new prime minister has, in the last few months, made various reconciliatory gestures which include accepting the responsibility of the previous governments and asking for an apology as well as accepting the partial implementation in the area of Islamic law and the Yawi language.
In any case, the rebels have not accepted these gestures and the violence has continued and even stepped up to a level higher than during the five years in which Thaksin was in power.
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