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Malaysia-Thailand bilateral ties on a high

Updated On: Feb 13, 2007

It appears that bilateral ties between Malaysia and Thailand are at their most congenial in years, even despite the minor blip a few days ago when prior to PM Abdullah Badawi’s trip to Thailand, the Malaysia Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told the media “the three Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia risked becoming a ‘breeding ground’ for regional terrorists”, Al Jazeera noted.

This provoked Thai Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas as saying that the remark was “groundless” and that “Thailand would not like to see foreign interference in its domestic affairs, but the government was prepared to discuss with Malaysia ways to restore peace and stability in the deep South”.

On Sunday, Thai PM Surayud extended a warm welcome to PM Badawi at the Phuket International Airport. Later in the afternoon over a round of golf, the two prime ministers had an informal discussion over bilateral issues. The King will also have a formal audience with PM Badawi and PM Surayud at Government House in Bangkok on Monday (12 Feb). 

On the table, according to the Bangkok Post, is the restoration of peace in the Thai South as well as “dual citizenship to enable authorities to monitor movements of criminals crisscrossing the common border to be stepped up, strengthen bilateral cooperation in the fields of economy, social and culture, and to exchange knowledge on developing human resources in Thailand's three southernmost provinces”. In addition, the Bernama suggested that “plans to extend security barriers along the Malaysia-Thailand border and the fate of 130 Thai Muslim refugees from Narathiwat currently being held in Terengganu are [also] likely to dominate the talks”.

This close cooperation is a stark contrast to the strained relations of the preceding years. Former PM Thaksin had often riled Malaysia by accusing it of “harbouring insurgents and of failing to cooperate in the battle against the militants”, the Bangkok Post reported. Gen. Surayud has instead taken “a more conciliatory approach”. Surapong Jayanama, the Thai PM's deputy secretary-general on security issues, said, “We should not look at the [Malaysian] positive gesture as an act of assistance. It is a cooperation that will eventually contribute to the development of the poverty-plagued region in both southern Thailand and northern Malaysia.” Nonetheless,Thailand is expecting the extradition of militants or insurgents from Malaysia to take a longer, more discreet process as it is a highly-sensitive issue.

Francesca Lawe-Davis of the International Crisis Group (ICG) believes that restoring peace to the South will be a protracted effort. Although there are some improvements like “a significant decrease in arbitrary arrests since the government announced an end to blacklists… abuses by officers in the field persist and accountability of the security forces remains a major problem”. Moreover, “there has been no progress in providing justice for past abuses, including the well-documented use of excessive force at Krue Se and Tak Bai in 2004, and the potential for abuse under the Emergency Decree remains high”, she added. What is most troubling for the South is that insurgent groups are putting “the government's commitment to peaceful means” to the test. Lawe-Davis is concerned that the surge in violence “immediately after the announcement of the new policy” was “an apparent attempt to undermine the conciliatory approach and provoke a crackdown”. If so, the escalating violence will cause “Thais outside the South” to push for “a more aggressive stance”.

If that happens, the Thai government may find itself reneging on its promises and coming down hard on the insurgents, sparking off more anger and violence. (12 February 2007)

Sources:

Pak Lah on Thai visit (Star, 12 February 2007)

M'sian, Thai PMs discuss southern insurgency (Bangkok Post, 11 February 2007)

Bangkok to seek KL assistance in bid to contain the violence (Bangkok Post, 11 February 2007)

Insurgents kill 3 as Abdullah arrives for talks on South (Bangkok Post, 11 February 2007)

Abdullah arrives in Phuket for three-day visit to Thailand (Bernama, 11 February 2007) 

Fear of Thai south as terrorist hotbed 'groundless',says defence minister (Bernama, 10 February 2007)

Malaysia fears Thai 'terror camps' (Aljazeera.net, 9 February 2007)

Thailand, Malaysia and the southern insurgency (Bangkok Post, 8 February 2007)