Kuala Lumpur - Malaysian police have arrested Thailand’s most-wanted Muslim separatist. The man, whom they identified as Abdul Rahman Ahmad, alias Deraman Koteh, is alleged to be the mastermind behind the wave of violence in southern Thailand.
Bernama news agency on Jan 26 quoted Malaysian Deputy Internal Security Minister, Mr Noh Omar, as saying that Abdul Rahman was picked up by the Special Branch on Jan 5 under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial.
“He is being investigated under the ISA,” Mr Noh said, without giving further details.
However, in Bangkok on the same day, Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had much to say about the arrest – which left the Malaysian government none too pleased.
Mr Thaksin, who identified Abdul Rahman by one of his other names, Jehkumer Kuteh, said the suspect is a leading member of the little-known separatist Mujahedeen Islamic Pattani party.
Thai authorities have tagged Jehkumer – who is believed to have Thai and Malaysian nationalities - as the mastermind behind an arms depot raid that re-ignited unrest in the south last year. At least 570 people have died in the unrest.
Mr Thaksin said he believes the suspect was also a security threat to Malaysia and the process of verifying his nationality should not take long.
"With these developments, we believe troubles in the South will end and the region will be peaceful again after the general election,'' he said.
Mr Thaksin said Thailand wants the suspect to be extradited if he is found to have Thai nationality.
“Absolutely, we want him extradited back here as he has been involved in many incidents," AFP quoted Mr Thaksin as saying.
His comments prompted Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar to point out that extradition request should be made through “proper channels…instead of making extradition requests through the media.”
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said on Jan 27 that Malaysia is willing to co-operate with Thailand.
However, the Thai government needs to make a formal request on “whatever forms of help they need us to assist them”, Mr Abdullah said.
He added that the suspect could not be extradited to Thailand since Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with the country.
The unrest in southern Thailand has been a source of irritant in bilateral ties between the two neighbours. Thailand has alleged that the Muslim separatists get support and refuge in Muslim majority Malaysia. The latter has always denied such claims.
* Malaysia willing to cooperate with Thailand on ISA detainee issue (Bernama, Jan 27)
* Suspected rebel leader: KL may approve extradition (The Nation, Jan 27)
* Rebel ‘mastermind’ held (The Star, Jan 27)