The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting is about to be convened later this month (25 July 2006). There will be the usual agreements signed but three other issues have overshadowed the run-up to the meeting.
The first is the haze from forest fires in Indonesia that is threatening to envelop Malaysia and parts of Thailand and raising the pollution index to unhealthy level . Senior officials from Malaysia and Indonesia are meeting this week to discuss the worsening situation of haze. Four years after signing the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Agreement, lack of political will and capacity continue to hamper efforts to prevent the forest fires and haze that plague the region.
Another issue revolves around the dual citizenship involving Malaysians and Thais, particularly in Southern Thailand where there is an estimate of 50,000 to 100,000 people having such status. On 13 July 2006, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra raised this issue to Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who was in Thailand to attend the 46th General Meeting of the General Border Committee (GBC).
The Thai government had long been concerned about members of militant groups from Southern Thailand seeking refuge in Malaysia because they had dual citizenship. Both Malaysia and Thailand agreed to match the databases of their population to detect those with dual citizenship. Those having dual citizenships would then be given a specific period of time to opt for either one. Najib has agreed to accept those who would opt for retaining their Malaysian citizenship.
However, this measure is unlikely to be successful. There had been difficulties in resolving the issue because those holding onto dual citizenship used two names- one for Thailand and another for Malaysia. Moreover, traders in the border are likely to hold onto both citizenships for ease of commuting.
Najib has stated that there is no need for an extradition treaty. The renewed call for an extradition treaty is partly related to the issue of 131 Thai Muslims, believed to be militants, who fled to Kelantan in August 2005. This refugee issue had strained diplomatic ties between Thailand and Malaysia and only improved late last year when Malaysia handed over one of them.
This issue of dual citizenship and extradition treaty is likely to remain high in the bilateral agenda as the end to violence in the South does not seem to be in sight. Fresh violence erupted last Thursday (13 July 2006) when an explosion at a market killed a soldier and injured nine others in Southern Thailand. In another province- Yala province, a bomb exploded at the side of the road, slightly injuring a policeman.
Another incident involving ASEAN members took place at the Thai-Myanmar border. On 10 July 2006, a Thai military helicopter flying over Thailand (at the border with Myanmar) was fired upon six times by the Myanmar military. Fortunately, there was no injury. The Myanmar military has since apologised, stating that it was unintentional and the helicopter was shot by a young Myanmar private who fired out of panic. Compensation by Myanmar would also be considered.
While all these issues may not made headlines in the coming ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the issue over lack of reforms in Myanmar and how the latter had affected ASEAN’s credibility and image in the international community seemed to be high on the agenda. Besides stating a common position on Myanmar, what would this translate to in real terms, and how would it affect the future functioning of ASEAN would be carefully watched by analysts looking for broader signs and trends of where ASEAN is heading in the years to come.
Lukewarm Response is Likely to Citizenship Offer (New Straits Times, 17 July 2006)
Thailand, Malaysia To Refrain From Media Arguments (Thai Press Reports, 17 July 2006)
Malaysia and Indonesia Set for Talks To Tackle Haze (The Straits Times, 15 July 2006)
Thailand, Malaysia Working Closely, Says Thaksin (Malaysia General News, 15 July 2006)
Bangkok, KL Focus on Dual Nationality (Bangkok Post, 15 July 2006)
Malaysia, Thailand to Address Citizenship (The Nation [Thailand], 14 July 2006)
No Plan for Extradition Treaty with Thailand, Says Najib (Malaysia General News, 14 July 2006)
Burmese Military Apologises for Panic Firing on Thai Helicopter (Bangkok Post, 14 July 2006)
Malaysia, Thailand To Resolve Dual Citizenship Status (Malaysia General News, 13 July 2006)
Thai, Burmese Military to Discuss Helicopter Attack (Bangkok Post, 13 July 2006)
Thailand: Thai Army Says Myanmar (Burma) Committed Hostile Act (Thai Press Report, 13 July 2006)
ASEAN to state position on Myanmar at meeting (The Straits Times, 17 July 2006)