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Escalation of southern conflict raises tension between Thailand and Malaysia

Updated On: Jun 20, 2006

Thai-Malaysian relations have taken another beating since the 130 Muslim Thais sought refuge in Malaysia last year. 

To add fuel to fire, Thai Interior Minister Kongsak Wantana’s insinuated that the recent bombs which exploded in southern Thailand were made in Malaysia. Even Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Chidchai Vanasathidya’s efforts at soothing diplomatic ruffles did not help.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar has tersely refuted Kongsak, saying that Thailand should not use Malaysia as a scapegoat to distract attention from its domestic woes. Syed told Bernama news agency, “Finding a scapegoat to justify what has happened will not help in any way to ease the tension in the restive South but will only worsen the situation… Pointing an accusing finger at this party and that party will not help in restoring peace and security.” He added that Malaysiawants to know who sparked off the accusations against Malaysia, maintaining that the authorities paid strict attention to smuggling of firearms. Moreover, Malaysiawas aware of the bilateral sensitivities regarding the Thai South and has been wont to tread carefully.

Whatever the ministers say, Thai security and intelligence officials seemed set in believing that Malaysia is somehow implicitly involved. This is because many insurgent and separatist leaders are said to live in northern Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur has consistently not cooperated with Bangkok to hand over suspects. The Bangkok Post reported that “Malaysia did not believe the suspects would be treated fairly by the Thai judicial system and had chosen to look for another country where they could be given asylum”.

The Europe-based Patani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo) had told the Nation that the recent bombings were to teach the Thai government a lesson for excluding exiled groups in reconciliation talks.  Kasturi Mahkota, Pulo's foreign-affairs chief, told the Nation, “The proposals primarily address unilateral Thai interests with no recognition of Malay rights and ethnicity and furthermore without involving the liberation movements.”

Conversely, a top Thai security official believed the bombings were timed to gain international attention, in view of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference meeting this week.

Be that as it may, Thai foreign minister seemed to believe that the Islamists’ attempt has failed.  He noted that the OIC is not going to discuss the Thai South this time around, preferring to broach subjects on “the well-being of people in the member countries, economic development and security issues”. 

Thailand is an observer to the OIC’s proceedings and succeeded “in lobbying for a softer OIC statement from last year’s meeting in Yemen” to label the southern conflict as a domestic problem and not religious strife. Therefore, Thailand manages to avoid the close scrutiny of the world Muslim body. As Deputy permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow said, “We are not accountable to the OIC, but we have voluntarily updated them on developments in the South.”

Sources:                 

South not topic for OIC meeting (Bangkok Post, 19 June 2006
Don't make us your scapegoat: Malaysia (The Nation, 18 June 2006)
No more tough talk about crisis in the South (The Nation, 18 June 2006)
Don’t keep blaming Malaysia, Thais told (The Star, 18 June 2006) 
Thai militants seek Muslim world's attention (Reuters, 17 June 2006) 
Give Info on Bombs Smuggled From M'sia Claim - Syed Hamid (Bernama, 16 June 2006)