Kuala Lumpur – In an unprecedented move to quell Thailand’s southern unrest, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, are planning to visit the region to show they are united in tackling the conflict.
The announcement came as another Thai soldier and a rubber tapper were killed in militant attacks near Narathiwat yesterday and eight soldiers were wounded.
Najib told reporters in Kuala Lumpur after meeting with Abhisit that he and the Thai leader planned to visit Islamic religious schools in the Malay-speaking South “so that the right kind of message can be transmitted”. No date was immediately scheduled for the visit.
“We remain optimistic that things can get a lot better if we continue to emphasise economic development, on giving them a better future,” Najib said.
Leaders of both countries discussed measures to bring economic progress to the border area, including Malaysia’s role in providing scholarships for Muslim students and helping develop the education system in Thai provinces bordering northern Malaysia.
“In terms of creating opportunities, particularly for young people in the area, I think Malaysia has very important contributions,” Abhisit said after meeting Najib.
The united stance was a break from the past, which was filled with suspicion between the two governments.
Thai security officials complained about Malaysia, saying officials there could do more to curb the movement of militants sneaking over the porous border to the Thai side.
Kuala Lumpur has consistently dismissed suggestions it is turning a blind eye to the conflict and at times has criticised Thailand’s heavy-handed tactics.
Cooperation between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur hit an unprecedented low during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration but bounced back during the government of Surayud Chulanont.
During his term, Surayud publicly thanked Malaysia for helping Bangkok by establishing a channel of communication among leaders of long-standing separatist groups living in exile.
But the administrations of Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat could not build on this progress.
Political insiders said Abhisit had been trying to pick up from where Surayud left off and look for ways to work with Kuala Lumpur on the restive region.
One move could involve asking the Malaysian government to facilitate dialogue with the separatist groups, an informed source said. However, this will not be possible until the Thai government agrees on a policy for formal negotiation with the insurgents.
In yesterday’s violence, rebels triggered a roadside bomb as 14 troops passed by on patrol, sparking a five-minute gun battle before the insurgents fled. Nine wounded soldiers were taken to hospital, where one later died.
Gunmen opened fire on the rubber-plan-tation worker as he rode his motorcycle to work in another district in Narathiwat, killing him instantly. The casualties came after three deaths in Narathiwat over the weekend.
The insurgency in the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat erupted in January 2004, and since then 3,700 people have been killed and thousands more wounded.
Source : The Nation