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Thailand, Malaysia pledge close watch on South

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Thailand, Malaysia pledge close watch on South By Achara Ashayagachat, BangkokPost.com; 13 Feb.07 Thailand and Malaysia exchanged lists of 500 names and
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 13, 2007
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      Thailand, Malaysia pledge close watch on South

      By Achara Ashayagachat,
      BangkokPost.com; 13 Feb.07

      Thailand and Malaysia exchanged lists of 500 names and fingerprints during Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's trip to Bangkok yesterday, hoping to accelerate efforts to solve the insurgency in the deep South.

      The two countries also are to increase cross-border cooperation as part of efforts to end more than three years of separatist violence in the Southern-most provinces. This is to include efforts to boost economic development and education support.

      The two-day visit by Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdulah Badawi to Thailand marked a major turning point in bilateral relations that soured during the former Thai government of Thaksin Shinawatra.

      Mr Abdullah said solving the problem of dual citizenship was one of the most possible concrete steps the two countries could take after many years of discussions.

      During formal talks in Bangkok, Mr Abdualah and Prime Minister Surayud Chulanot included measures to develop the border areas with Malaysia offering to assist Thailand in Islamic education studies.

      Speaking to reporters, Mr Abdullah, expressed concern the violence in the Thai provinces bordering Malaysia remained a threat.

      "Southern Thailand is a big concern to us," he said. "We intend to cooperate in whatever way we can so that together we can help to reduce the situation - which at the moment is one of threat to the peace and stability of Southern Thailand."

      With biometrics technology, both sides could examine the lists and if any person held twin nationalities, they would have to choose their citizenship, Mr Abdullah said. He was speaking leading his ministers in 70-minute talks with the Thai side, led by Prime Minister Surayud.

      The Malaysian Home Ministry's secretary-general Aseh Che Mat said he had given a list of 500 names and fingerprints of Malaysian citizens to interior permanent secretary Pongpayom Wasaputi, who in exchange gave him a list with the same number of people and evidence of their Thai citizenship.

      The two sides would check whether there were any people with dual nationality, possibly this month, said Mr Aseh. "Once the checking is final, the prime minister will make a decision on these people, as they have to choose which nationality they want to carry on with.

      "We need a policy or high-level endorsement as a benchmark to deal with the larger groups, whose number has yet to be finalised," he said.

      Security sources said a few hundred thousand people in the three southernmost provinces carried Malaysian identification cards.

      Mr Aseh could not say when the dual citizenship problem would be completely solved, but said the political will was already there.

      During the meeting, Mr Abdullah talked at length on the education and development cooperation Malaysia would embark on as an enthusiastic ally of Thailand.

      Gen Surayud reaffirmed that southern violence had nothing to do with international terrorism. "It is a domestic issue and we've been prepared to address the issue for a long time," he said.

      Asked how the two sides could immediately cooperate in stopping the violence, Gen Surayud said the foreign ministers of the two countries would discuss details of what could be done in the short and medium term. Both sides would increase consultations and contacts at all levels, and had agreed to utilise existing mechanisms such as Joint Committee meetings and the Joint Development Strategy (JDS) to promote bilateral ties.

      "The implementation of JDS projects will improve the quality of life of people in the border areas of the two countries as well as help to stimulate the economic growth of southern Thailand and the northern states of peninsula Malaysia," the two leaders said in a joint statement.

      The projects include the development of infrastructure and transportation, agriculture, trade and investment, human resources, tourism and people-to-people contacts.

      Mr Abdullah had an audience with His Majesty the King yesterday.

      It is his third visit to Thailand since he became prime minister. His first two were in January and October 2004

      Since attacks escalated in early 2004, bloodshed has claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 people.

      Bilateral relations soured in 2004 amid an escalation of violence and a harder-line policy by the Thaksin government. Mr. Thaksin also accused Malaysia of harboring insurgents.

      Gen Surayud, who replaced Thaksin after a September coup, said a peaceful resolution to the violence was necessary for the region's economic progress.

      He said, "Both prime ministers agreed that peace, security and stability in the southern part of Thailand are relevant and important to the northern most part states of peninsular Malaysia and vice versa."

      "A peaceful and secure environment is crucial to the economic development and prosperity of these areas," he continued.

      The increased cross-border cooperation is welcome, says Human Rights Watch representative in Thailand, Sunai Pasuk.

      "Cooperation between the governments of Thailand and Malaysia is very important to any effort to address the insurgency in Southern Thailand," he said. "This is the right approach. I am very pleased to see Prime Minister Surayud and Prime Minister Badawai seriously working together."

      But cooperation is just a first step. Separatists stepped up attacks through late 2006 as Mr. Surayud's government made renewed efforts to win back support from the Muslim communities.

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