New York – Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra appeared to have taken Thailand's diplomatic row with Malaysia to an Asean-United Nations summit in the Big Apple. In an indirect reference to the issue of the 131 Thai-Muslims who had sought shelter in Malaysia, he accused a United Nations' agency of allowing itself to be exploited for political purposes which could damage Thailand's reputation.
In a speech on Sept 13, Mr Thaksin said the UN agency, which he did not name, worked without coordination or guidelines from its headquarters in "a recent incident" to get involved in "local political exploitation" which could cause international misunderstanding.
"Had that agency paid due respect to Thailand's concerns and tried to understand the real cause of the incident, it would not have been so exploited," Mr Thaksin said.
He was apparently referring to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which had interviewed the 131 Thai-Muslims to determine whether they deserved to be accorded refugee status. The UNHCR is expected to release its findings soon.
According to the Bangkok Post, the UNHCR took the action despite a call from the Thai government not to become involved because the villagers, who crossed into Malaysia on Aug 30 saying they feared for their safety, were not refugees.
Thai officials have expressed concern about Thais being politicised to turn the violence in southern Thailand into an international issue.
"For any UN agency to successfully complete its mission in a given country, there must exist trust and a constructive partnership, based on respect for dignity, integrity and sovereignty, between the UN agency and the countries concerned,'' Mr Thaksin said.
In Kuala Lumpur, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said Malaysia would allow the Thai military to interview the 131 Thai-Muslims now being held at an immigration transit camp in Kelantan. The interview would be done jointly with the Malaysian authorities.
"We want to know from the 131 how many of them are considered as threats to Thai security...we need to establish that (before taking further steps)," Mr Najib, who is also the Defence Minister, told reporters.
* UN agency 'let itself be exploited' (Bangkok Post, Sept 15)
* Testy Thaksin carries spat with Malaysia to New York summit (The Nation, Sept 15)
* Malaysia to allow Thai military to interview Thai-Muslims (Bernama, Sept 15)