Malaysia PM vows to facilitate peace talks in restive southern Thailand

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim pledged to "do whatever is required" to facilitate a peaceful solution to a long-simmering insurgency in southern Thailand, during an official visit to Bangkok on Thursday.

More than 7,300 people have been killed since 2004 in fighting between Thai forces and shadowy groups seeking independence for the predominantly Muslim and ethnically Malay provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and parts of Songkhla, which border Malaysia.

The area was part of the Patani sultanate that Thailand annexed in a 1909 treaty with Britain.

Anwar stressed the insurgency is an internal issue for Thailand but said Malaysia will do whatever it can to help find a peaceful solution to the conflict, starting with appointing Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, 65, a former head of Malaysia's armed forces as facilitator to the process.

"It is our duty as a good neighbour and family to do whatever is required and necessary to facilitate the process," Anwar said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said cooperation will help address the problems in the restive provinces, specifically greater economic development and improved connectivity between the two countries.

The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the main insurgent group involved in talks with the Thai government did not comment when contacted by Reuters.

Since 2013 Malaysia has helped facilitate peace talks between the separatists groups and Thai government but the process been disrupted disrupted. The latest round of talks resumed last year after a two-year suspension due to the pandemic.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)