KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, AP
The Thai and Malaysian foreign ministers are set to meet in Malaysia this week, the government said Tuesday, as a violent separatist insurgency rages in southern Thailand near the countries’ shared border.
Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram has said cooperation with Malaysia is key in combating the escalating violence that has killed more than 2,000 people, mostly civilians, in Thailand’s southernmost provinces.
Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist, but the country’s far south is predominantly Muslim, and residents of the region have long felt that they are treated like second-class citizens.
Nitya is scheduled to hold talks with Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar on Thursday in the administrative capital Putrajaya, and will meet with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi the following day before returning to Bangkok, Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
His visit “will serve to further enhance the existing close bilateral relations and extensive areas of cooperation” between the Southeast Asian neighbors, the brief statement said. It did not elaborate.
On Monday, suspected separatists shot and killed three Buddhist women involved with a project for victims of the insurgency in Pattani province. Just days earlier, three boys aged 12 to 14 were killed when attackers opened fire on and tossed explosives into the dormitory of an Islamic boarding school in nearby Songkhla province.
“If the violence escalates, Thai Buddhists may head towards Bangkok and Thai Muslims to Malaysia, where they share an affinity in terms of culture, religion and race,” The Star newspaper quoted Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhavan as saying.
The Star reported over the weekend that 20 Thais who claimed they were being intimidated by Thai troops had fled into Malaysia, and said officials were bracing for an influx of Thais.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak reiterated that Malaysia was ready to “assist in any way,” if requested by Thailand.
Malaysian officials maintain that the problem in the south is an internal matter for Thailand to resolve.
Both governments have said they are attempting to resolve the problem of dual citizenship, which Thai authorities say is abused by separatist militants who carry out attacks in Thailand and seek refuge in Malaysia.