Bangkok– The arrest ofThailand’s most wanted terrorist suspect inMalaysiashould have been a cause of celebration for the two neighbours. Instead, news of the arrest have sparked a sharp exchange of words between ministers in the two countries.
Malaysian authorities were none too pleased with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for pre-empting them by announcing to the press inBangkokon Jan 26 that Jehkumer Kuteh (whom the Malaysians identify as Abdul Rahman Ahmad) had been arrested inMalaysia.
Mr Thaksin said his government would seek for Jehkumer - alleged to be the mastermind behind a string of terrorist attacks in southernThailand- to be extradited fromMalaysia.
His statement drewa protest from Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who saidMr Thaksin should use diplomatic channels, rather than the media, to voice his wish for the suspect’s extradition. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi later saidextradition is not possible because the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
The Thai Foreign Ministry defended Mr Thaksin’s remarks, saying that the two countries had agreed that news of Jehkumer’s arrest could be disclosed and that Mr Syed Hamid might not have been aware of the fact.
The ministry also criticised Mr Syed Hamid, saying that it was “inappropriate” that someone of ministerial rank should make “negative statements” about another country’s leader that were not “constructive to their existing close relations”.
This is not the first time – and unlikely to be the last-that the two neighbours have sparred verbally over an issue related to the unrest inThailand’s impoverished, Muslim majority, southern provinces.
WithMalaysiabeing a Muslim majority country, many of its citizens could emphatise with their Thai counterparts, who have complained, among other things, of discrimination in mainly Buddhist Thailand.
Last year, Mr Thaksin had riledMalaysiaby alleging that Thai militants are living and training in the country - a charge angrily denied by Kuala Lumpur.
In an editorial, the Thai newspaper, The Nation, said Mr Thaksin’s remarks over Jehkumer’s arrest is typical of his blunt diplomatic style which is aimed more at scoring political points and boosting his popularity at home.
In a similar vein, an editorial in Malaysia’s New Straits Times suggested that Mr Thaksin’s behaviour echoed that of kings of the past, where “beset by internal problems, they would wage war on their neighbours to divert domestic scrutiny of their failings”.
“Thaksin, who has contributed greatly to the growth of his nation, has riled his neighbours, includingJakartaandYangon, with his statements. It would be a tragedy if his actions are geared towards distracting domestic attention from his failure to bring peace to southThailand,” the Malaysian newspaper said.
* Thaksin lacks diplomatic finesse, (The Nation, Jan 29)
* Crossed lines in diplomacy (New Straits Times, Jan 29)