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Thailand, Malaysia at Odds Over Whether Malaysia is Used as Base to Destabilize Southern Thailand

Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has denied an assertion by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that some Muslim militants in southern Thailand were trained across the border in northern Malaysia.

Prime Minister Abdullah said Saturday that he was "shocked" at the claim, and said if the Thai prime minister had such information, he should have conveyed it through diplomatic channels and not through the mass media.

Mr. Thaksin replied Sunday, saying the Thai government had already told Malaysian authorities that Thai militants had trained in the forests of Malaysia's Kelantan state. However, he added that he did not blame the Malaysian government, since he believed it was not aware of the activity at the time it occurred.

Mr. Thaksin also added Indonesia to the list of places where Thailand's Muslim separatists were receiving training and inspiration. He said the masterminds of the southern violence were being inspired by Indonesian extremists, and had also received training there.

There was no immediate reply by the Indonesian government.

More than 500 people have died since the violence in Thailand's largely Muslim southern provinces broke out nearly one year ago.

Thai authorities last week arrested four Muslim teachers whom it suspects are leaders of an insurgency aimed at creating a separate state in the three provinces. The government Sunday offered rewards for information leading to the arrest of two more Islamic leaders.

The head of the Thai Law Society, Somchai Homlaor says the arrests are the result of better intelligence gathering in the south.

"More and more because the government works harder, the government gets more information about what's happening in the south," he said.

However, Mr. Somchai says he does not believe the arrests will do much to halt the insurgency, because the insurgents are organized into small cells that operate independently of each other. He says the government has suffered a loss of support among the general Muslim population because of heavy-handed tactics by the security forces.

The region was an independent sultanate until it was annexed by Thailand 100 years ago. The Muslim majority in the region has long felt alienated from the central government of the predominantly Buddhist nation.