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As violence escalates in the South, Malaysia still professed “confidence” in Thailand to resolve the Southern conflict

Updated On: Mar 27, 2007

Malaysia has always been keen to assist Thailand in bringing peace to the border provinces of Thailand.

However, Thailand has consistently fobbed off its overtures diplomatically.

With the escalation of violence in the South, Malaysia is anxious about the cross-border effects, and have kept the options open for greater involvement with Thai government to resolve the issue.  Yet at the same time, Malaysia has taken care not to offend Thailand by generally following the line that the violence is a purely Thai domestic issue and reiterating its confidence in Thailand’s ability to clear up the problem.   

After the Thailand-Malaysia High Level Committee meeting in Bangkok last week, Malaysian Defence Forces Chief General Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal told Bernama that “Malaysia considered the unrest as a domestic issue of Thailand and that the Thai leadership was in a better position to gauge the situation towards resolving it”. He reaffirmed Malaysia’s commitment to “provide any form of assistance as requested by Thai authorities”.

On Thailand’s part, Supreme Commander Gen. Boonsranf Niumpradit said “Thailand was very grateful to Malaysia for its cooperation in efforts to bring peace to the south, and particularly for not pressuring Thai authorities to take back the 131 Thai Muslims who fled Narathiwat to Kelantan in Aug 2005”. This appreciation was extended to Malaysia’s understanding over the further 20 “refugees” who crossed into Malaysia claiming maltreatment but Thai security forces.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar added to the mutual goodwill by declaring the insurgency as “not religious”, the Bangkok Post said. He told the press, “I don't think we should try to address the problem from the religion perspective. It has nothing to do with Islam. They happen to be Muslims who are citizens ofThailand and I don't think the conflict should be reduced to a Muslim-Buddhist conflict… The Muslims and Buddhists have lived in the area peacefully for a long time. This is a question of feeling alienated, feelings of discontent, it has to do with socio-economic problems.”

To this end, Thai-Malaysia cooperation will focus on socio-economic measures for the South. Syed Hamid and Nitya are also to have a Malaysia-Thailand Joint Commission meeting soon to discuss proposals to curb the violence in southern Thailand. Syed Hamid said, “Both sides are interested in having more confidence-building measures and find ways to ease the violence in southern Thailand. We are trying to help the Thais in confidence-building initiatives. [We do] not want the unabated violence in southern Thailand to spill into Malaysia.”

Meanwhile, Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda has “urged all Thai Muslims to follow the teachings of Islam in order to swiftly end violence in the three southernmost provinces”, the Nation reported. He believes that “this will quickly solve unrest because Islam taught people to do good deeds and help each other”.  However, it is not clear if this will work as violence escalates and now the Buddhists are arming themselves because of doubts in the military’s ability to ensure security. Such increasing “militarization” of the region and the danger of tit for tat actions pitting Muslims against Buddhists cannot be ruled out. 

On the other issue of the deadly New Year's Eve bombings in Bangkok, investigations have uncovered that Southern insurgents were paid by ousted politicians to carry out the attacks. Gen. Wattanachai Chaimuenwong told the media that “the perpetrators were not driven by separatist ideology but were paid ‘to discredit the current government’ by a group of politicians who had lost their power in the coup”. Further details of the matter remain secret. National Police Chief Gen. Seriphisut Temiyawej has refused to elaborate on the basis of jeopardizing investigations. (26 March 2007)

Sources:

Ticking bomb in Southern Thailand (Straits Times, 26 March 2007)

Tenets of Islam 'will end trouble’ (Nation, 27 March 2007)

Prem urges Muslims to follow Islam (Nation, 27 March 2007)

Tengku Adnan: Southern Thailand still safe to visit (Star, 25 March 2007)

M'sia Confident Thai Leadership Will Resolve Unrest In The South (Bernama, 23 March 2007)

Insurgency 'not religious' says Malaysia (Bangkok Post, 22 March 2007)

Security official says ousted politicians paid insurgents to carry out Bangkok bombings (AP, 22 March 2007)