Mon, Feb 12, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Malaysian PM to discuss violence during Thailand trip

AP , BANGKOK

Malaysia's prime minister arrived in Thailand yesterday for meetings with his Thai counterpart on the violence that has wracked Thailand's southern provinces and left more than 2,000 dead.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi -- who is on a three-day visit to Thailand and was due to meet yesterday with Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont on the resort island of Phuket -- is also expected to discuss the possible return of 130 Thai Muslims who fled to Malaysia in 2005 and claim their lives were threatened by the military.

"They will likely talk about policy matters, especially on Thailand's southern violence," Thailand's Foreign Ministry spokesman Kitti Wasinond said.

"Although it is still a domestic issue, Malaysia as an immediate neighbor has a role to play which will also be for the benefit of both countries," he said.

The meeting comes as violence in Thailand's three mostly southernmost provinces continues unabated. Since the conflict flared up in 2004, more than 2,000 have been killed.

In the latest southern violence, suspected Muslim insurgents early yesterday ambushed and shot to death three Muslim rubber tappers in Yala's Thanto District, police said. In a separate incident, suspected insurgents shot at a train as it was leaving the station in Narathiwat's Rangae District, wounding a train employee.

The insurgency has been spearheaded by a murky group that are believed to want to create an Islamic independent state. Though the group appears to be largely domestic, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar warned last week of a danger that terrorist groups will seek to build new bases there -- a charge Thailand has denied.

"There is always a danger if people are not happy, some terrorist groups may take advantage of it ... we must not allow any breeding ground for terrorism to exist or to be nurtured," Syed Hamid told reporters.

Muslims, who are a majority in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, often complain of being treated like second-class citizens in Buddhist-dominated Thailand, with inadequate educational and job opportunities. They share both the religion and ethnicity of Malays, the largest ethnic group in Malaysia.

Abdullah will be accompanied by his foreign minister, the chief ministers of Perlis, Kedah and Perak States which border Thailand, and high-ranking government officials on his trip.

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