Bangkok - Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has little sympathy for the 131 Thai-Muslims who crossed illegally into the northern Malaysian state of Kelantan last week. He said the group included Muslim militants who had convinced the others to follow them into Kelantan by claiming that they were on the hit-list of the security forces in southern Thailand.
"Don't fall for their dirty tricks. They are doing everything to internationalise the southern unrest,'' Mr Thaksin told reporters on Sept 2.
He dismissed a suggestion that the 131 people had fled into Malaysia because they were afraid of the Thai authorities. Instead, Mr Thaksin blamed residents of the deep South for the mini-exodus by arguing that violence in the region had been rising because the residents refused to cooperate with government officials.
One southern security source told the Bangkok Post that no fewer than 50 people from Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat were slipping into Malaysia each day without travel documents.
The source, echoing Mr Thaksin's views, said the militants had also been poisoning the minds of the people by telling them that the recent murders of three Islamic religious leaders in the region was the work of government officials.
A Thai security analyst said the fleeing of the Thais to Malaysia underlined the need for the Thaksin government to seek help from Kuala Lumpur in solving the problem.
Mr Panitan Wattanayagorn, an analyst of security and international affairs at Chulalongkorn University's political science faculty, said a meeting between Mr Thaksin and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was needed to send a strong message to their subordinates.
He noted that despite several rounds of talks between their defence ministers and top brass, the two countries' plans for a joint border patrol and the exchange of intelligence information could not effectively be turned into action.
Mr Panitan added that the Thai government should also try to win support from other Muslim countries to counter militant leaders who wanted to turn the southern problem into a regional and international issue.
"Those in the inner circle of the insurgent network want to move the issue in that direction. And they can do it patiently,'' Mr Panitan said.
* PM: Rebels trying to internationalise issue (Bangkok Post, Sept 3)
* Departure of rebels a wake-up call (Bangkok Post, Sept 4)
* Muslims to blame for 131 fleeing to Malaysia: PM (The Nation, Sept 4)