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Upbeat words and false optimism on the resolution of the Southern conflict

Updated On: Jun 26, 2007

As if the Thai authorities have not shown enough incompetence in dealing with the restive South after three years, the continued naivety and optimism in Bangkok begs belief.

Just last week, Thai Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas professed to his Malaysian Ministry of Defence counterparts that the Southern crisis was on “its last legs”, the Bangkok Post noted. At about the same time, PM Surayud visited the Southern provinces to “boost morale among villagers and security officers”. However, as if to prove the government wrong, the Associated Press reported that vicious defiance was witnessed as more bombs exploded in Yala and Narathiwat while the bodies of the victims (including two soldiers) were burnt beyond recognition.

After last week's meeting between Thai and Malaysian defence officials, the Thai News Agency reported Gen. Boonrawd Somtas announcing that “Thailand's plan to negotiate with the insurgents is part of [the government's] `road map' to restoring peace in the troubled region”. He added that “the Thai government has now `nearly' approached the militant leaders [and] that there is a possibility that the government would consider their demands to establish a Special Administrative Region (SAR) in the Muslim-majority provinces and districts”. He said firmly, “If the government believes such an approach could solve the problem, it could be done… but what we can't accept is to set up autonomy.”

It is difficult to know what Malaysia makes of Thailand's commitment to resolve the Southern insurgency. As it stands, many bilateral talks have been conducted, with Malaysia often offering assistance ifThailandso wanted. However, Thailandhas always maintained it can quell the violence itself and the bilateral measures in the pipelines have always been along the socio-economic development of the South.

The latest meeting was no different. As “the security situation at border regions could potentially jeopardise the stability of Malaysia vis a vis its relations with its neighbours”, Malaysia Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called for committed cooperation “between the law enforcement agencies of both countries to prevent and combat transnational crimes and international terrorism” and to ensure that cordial bilateral ties continue, the Bernama said. Najib also reaffirmed that whatever assistance Malaysiawas to render, the Thai South was “a domestic problem and Malaysiawould not interfere in its neighbour's internal affairs”. Najib was careful to stress, “So, in this context, whatever policy we have adopted must be in tandem with our sincere efforts to cooperate with you to help overcome this problem and it must not, and should not, be misconstrued otherwise.”

In line with maintaining bilateral amicability, Najib also professed faith in the Thailand's ability to bring peace. In addition, he assured that Kelantan (the state closest to Thailand) was unaffected as it was “far away from the border”. He also declared, “Security at the Malaysia-Thailand border is well under control.”

Whatever the case may be, the upcoming 10th Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) of the Thai and Malaysian Foreign Ministries on June 28 and 29 has been moved to Bangkokfrom Haadyai due to security reasons. A Thai Foreign Ministry official said, “The meeting will now take place in Bangkok. There's concern over security because the hotel where the meeting is supposed to take place (in Haadyai) was hit by a smaller bomb.” In addition, Surayud “will visit Malaysiain August for talks with Malaysian PM Abdullah Badawi on ways to end the insurgency in the deep South”, the Bangkok Post reported. (25 June 2007)

Sources:

Special administrative region in restive South possible, says defence minister (TNA, 23 June 2007)

PM Surayud to visit Malaysiain August: Defence minister (Bangkok Post, 23 June 2007'Reconciliation will Solve Thai violence' (NST, 22 June 2007)

Bombs wound 6 in restive southern Thailand(AP, 22 June 2007)

Thailand`hopeful' for peace in the South (Bangkok Post, 21 June 2007)

PM to go South to boost morale (Bangkok Post, 21 June 2007)

Boonrawd: Militants on last legs (Bangkok Post, 21 June 2007)Kelantan Not Affected By Southern Thailand Turmoil - Najib (Bernama, 21 June 2007)

MalaysiaThailandneed info exchange to fight new challenges, says Najib (Bernama, 19 June 2007)

Thailand-Malaysia Meeting In BangkokNext Week (Bernama, 19 June 2007)