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Interim Military-Backed Thai Leader Asks For Help From Indonesian Muslims Groups

  • Chad Bouchard

Thailand's military-appointed interim prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, is asking Indonesia's Muslim leaders to help end violence in his country's mostly Muslim southern provinces. Chad Bouchard reports from Jakarta, where Mr. Surayud stopped Saturday as part of a flurry of diplomatic trips since Thailand's military coup last month.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont says he is looking to Indonesia to help resolve a nearly three-year old conflict in Thailand's predominantly Muslim areas.

Mr. Surayud made the comments Saturday in Jakarta after meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - the democratically-elected leader of the world's largest Muslim population.

Indonesian presidential spokesman, Dino Patti Djalal, tells VOA that Mr. Surayud hopes help from Indonesian Muslim leaders can resolve Thailand's conflict peacefully.

"The exchange of Islamic leaders, Muslim leaders, between Indonesia and Thailand would help them to build these bridges, and to build better understanding, or perhaps get further ideas on what can be done to help peacefully resolve the conflict in Thailand," he said.

One of the factors leading to Thailand's bloodless coup on September 19 was disagreement between the military and ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - who was blamed for using hard line tactics instead of diplomacy to quell violence in the country's mostly Muslim southern provinces.

More than 1,700 people have been killed since the violence flared several years ago.

Djalal says Mr. Surayud thinks Indonesia's recent peace deal with its own separatist Aceh province is an inspiration for the Thai government.

"The fact that a long bloody conflict was resolved at all, and in a very speedy way, that in itself should be able also to help our brothers and sisters in southern Thailand realize that a peaceful solution is possible anywhere in the world," he said.

After decades of conflict, Indonesia and Aceh separatists entered a peace agreement in August 2005 giving the resource-rich province much greater autonomy. The peace process was spurred on after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated Aceh - leaving almost 170 thousand people dead.

During the Jakarta summit Saturday, the Indonesian president urged Mr. Surayud, a former army general, to lift martial law as soon as possible, and move ahead with democratic elections planned for next year.

The interim Thai prime minister's stop in Indonesia marks his fourth in a series of introductory meetings with heads of state in neighboring countries. His whirlwind tour has also included Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. He is scheduled to visit the Philippines and Vietnam next week.

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