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Suspected Thai Terrorist Arrested in Malaysia

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

Malaysian police have arrested a suspected Thai terrorist, but are still checking his identity to confirm that he is the same man the Thai Prime Minister says is behind a year of deadly violence in Thailand's predominately Muslim south.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters he wants Malaysian authorities to hand over Thailand's most wanted terrorist suspect, Jehkumir Kuteh.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar later chided the Thai authorities, saying they should have worked with their Malaysian counterparts to check the suspect's identity and nationality first, instead of making extradition requests through the media.

The Malaysians arrested the man two-days ago, but say they are still trying to confirm his identity.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow played down the apparent disagreement, saying the two countries have been working closely together during the past year to find those responsible for the violence on the Thai side of their common border.

"With regard to the arrest itself I think it could be handled directly between the security authorities of the two countries," said Mr. Sihasak. "But in principle, the arrest of those who we believe are involved in the incidences that have occurred in the South would be helpful, and we certainly appreciate the cooperation of the Malaysian government."

Prime Minister Thaksin says Mr. Jehkumir, the suspect, is the Muslim separatist ringleader behind the violence that has plagued mainly Muslim Southern Thailand during the last year. He is specifically accused of masterminding the January 2004 raid on an army depot in Narathiwat province that left four soldiers dead and hundreds of weapons missing.

That raid ignited a year of bombings and shootings in the South that has killed more than 500 people. The Thai government has blamed the almost daily acts of violence on a Muslim separatist movement that was largely quelled more than a decade ago.

But analysts also blame the renewed violence on rivalry between the police and the military, on corrupt politicians, and on common criminals operating along the border.

Thailand is a predominately Buddhist country. Most members of its Muslim minority are clustered near the border with Malaysia. The affected region is among Thailand's poorest, and many residents complain of unequal treatment by the government.