Will Thai-Malaysian row undermine regional summits in KL?

Updated On: Oct 21, 2005

Bangkok - Ties between Malaysia and Thailand show no signs of improving as their top officials continue to engage in a war words. There are now fears that the diplomatic row, left unresolved, could sour the atmosphere of the upcoming Asean and East Asian summits in Kuala Lumpur in December. 

      The Thai government has been irked by comments made by senior Malaysian officials, such as Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, over the escalating violence in southern Thailand
      In one of his latest comments, Mr Syed Hamid said Bangkok should not try to teach Kuala Lumpur how to conduct its foreign policy. 
      "We will not teach Thailand how to conduct their foreign policy and I ask them not to tell us how to handle our foreign policy," he said on Oct 17.
      Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said Malaysia was making unhelpful comments. "It's clear that the comment or statement by Malaysia aims to criticise Thailand, rather than show sincerity and a willingness to solve the problem together," Mr Kantathi said. 
      At the heart of the row is the fate of 131 Thai-Muslims who crossed illegally into Malaysia on Aug 31 after allegedly fleeing the violence in Narathiwat, southernThailandThailand says that rebel suspects are among the group while Malaysia says it wants a guarantee of the safety and human rights of the group before they are sent back to Thailand.  
      According to The Nation, Asean diplomats are worried that the bickering could undermine the Asean and the inaugural East Asian summits in the Malaysian capital.
      One Bangkok-based diplomat pointed to the Vientiane Summit last year when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra threatened to walk out if the issue of violence in southern Thailand was raised at the meeting.  Thailand considers the unrest an internal problem. 
      In an editorial, the Bangkok Post says: "If Thai-Malaysian ties do not improve in the next week or two, chances are Thailand will either boycott two important international summits in Kuala Lumpur in December or downgrade the Thai delegations to them.  
     "Nobody wants this happen, but without any drastic change in attitude on the Malaysian side, this worst-case scenario will become a reality. Malaysia, as host of the Asean and East Asian summits, must realise the dire consequences of having a key Asean member boycotting them."
      The Post argues that Mr Syed Hamid "has been very condescending to Thailand" and it is now up to Malaysia to make "some sort of positive overture toThailand".
The newspaper warns that if the two foreign ministers fail to resolve the row when they meet for the Apec summit in South Korea, next month, "that could mean not only even more damaged Thai-Malaysian relationship during the two Malaysian summits, but also a further worsening of the security situation in the deep South".

* Cooperation key to good relations (Bangkok Post, Oct 20)

* Concern tiff with KL will sour summit (The Nation, Oct 19)

* Developments in southern Thailand can affect national security, says Syed Hamid (Bernama, Oct 18)