Thai leader optimistic about reconciliation with Muslims

By Monday June 8th, 2009 No Comments

Kuala Lumpur_(dpa) _ Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday said he was optimistic to see the end to violence in his country’s troubled southern region, and pledged to bring “justice and opportunities” to the land.

“Let me reiterate that my government’s approach is based on the belief that the key to peace and security is justice and opportunities,” Abhisit told a press conference with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak.

Abhisit, who arrived in Malaysia Monday for a one-day working visit, said his government was shifting emphasis in the troubled southern region to economic development.

Abhisit’s comments came shortly after Islamic insurgents shot dead a villager and then detonated a car bomb as a crowd gathered, killing one person and wounding 19 others in Thailand’s Narathiwat province.

In spite of the killings, Najib told reporters that both leaders remained optimistic of the situation in the south.

“We remain optimistic that things will get a lot better if we continue to emphasize on economic development and giving them a better future,” Najib said.

“As a result of this new approach and new policy towards the south, things have improved. They have improved much more significantly,” the Malaysian prime minister said.

Abhisit said he had invited Najib’s government to help revamp the syllabus of Islamic schools in southern Thailand.

“In terms of creating opportunities, particularly for the young people in the area, we think that Malaysia has very important contributions in the area of education and Islamic schools,” Abhisit said.

More than 3,500 people have been killed in an insurgency over the past five years in Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala.

The area comprised the former Islamic sultanate of Pattani more than 200 years ago, before being conquered by Thailand, which is overwhelmingly Buddhist.

Najib said Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, had agreed to help the Thai government, adding that both leaders were planning to “go to the ground” and speak to people in the affected areas.

Abhisit, who was accompanied by a delegation of Thai ministers and top government officials on his trip, earlier had an audience with Malaysia’s King Mizan Zainal Abidin before visiting the Thai embassy in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

The trip was Abhisit’s first official visit to Malaysia since becoming prime minister on December 17, and he is the first foreign government leader to visit since Najib was appointed prime minister on April 3.

With closer cultural, religious and linguistic ties to neighbouring Malaysia, Thailand’s deep south has been the scene of a long-simmering separate struggle that took a turn for the worse in January 2004, when Muslim militants attacked an army depot, killing four soldiers and taking 300 weapons.

Army reprisals on the insurgents further antagonized the ethnic-Malay segment of the local population against the Bangkok central government.

Source : DPA

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