Kuala Lumpur - If Malaysia could have its way, the insurgency in southern Thailand would be on the agenda at the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) which began in Vientianne, Laos, on July 25. Should this happen, Asean's long-cherished, or outdated as some critics say, policy of non-interference in its members' affairs may finally be up for a reevaluation.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said that now might be a good time for Asean to rethink its principle of non-interference if it is determined that "internal" problems have the potential to spill over into neighbouring countries.
"Asean is very sensitive about non-interference. But I think the principle of non-interference is limited," he said during an interview with foreign journalists, including those from Thailand, recently.
"We do think that countries in the region should be concerned about their neighbours if there's a spillover effect, such as in southern Thailand. We share a common border, and whatever happens in southern Thailand affects us, directly or indirectly."
Mr Syed Hamid said he realised that Thailand did not want to bring up the insurgency as a regional issue. At last year's Asean summit in Vientianne, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra threatened to walk out of the meeting if any of the Asean leaders dared even to mention it.
However, Mr Syed Hamid noted that Indonesia, which regards the long-running conflict in Aceh as an internal problem, took the trouble to explain the situation to its Asean partners.
"We are all connected. It's important for us understand the situation. If there are implications for our well-being, our safety and our security, then we would like to have the right to know," he added.
The insurgency in the deep South has strained Thailand's relations with Malaysia. Many Malay Malaysians emphatise with the plight of Thailand's Malay Muslims in the South, who have long complained that they are treated like second-class citizens in their own country. On the other hand, Thai government officials, including Mr Thaksin himself, have complained that some of the Thai militants had been trained in camps in Malaysia - a charge denied by Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Syed Hamid said he hoped that Prime Minister Thaksin would be able to address the roots of the troubles in the deep South.
"You must look at the root cause to come up with the correct diagnosis rather than look at the symptoms."
* Non-interference under the microscope (The Nation, July 25)