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Malaysia's Anwar Calls on Kuala Lumpur to Support Peace Efforts in Thai South


Malaysia's former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, has called on the Malaysian government for stronger efforts to help end militant violence in neighboring Thailand. Ron Corben reports for VOA from Bangkok that Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is preparing to visit the Thai capital to discuss cooperation on the issue.

Anwar Ibrahim says there is a need for predominately Muslim Malaysia to become more active in seeking an end to Muslim-instigated violence in Thailand's south.

"The need to impress on the Malaysian authorities - the Malaysian government - the prime minister in particular - Abdullah Badawi - to be more forceful in calling for all sections of the Muslims in the [Thai] south, to give peace a chance, to support this peace process," Anwar said.

As Anwar voiced his appeal Tuesday, Prime Minister Abdullah was preparing to leave for Bangkok. He and Thailand's military-installed prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, are due to discuss ways to end the violence in the region, which borders Malaysia.

Bangkok has previously accused Malaysia of giving refuge to militants from Thailand's three largely Muslim border provinces. Violence there, which has claimed the lives of almost two-thousand people since 2004, is thought to be primarily the work of Muslim separatists.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a military coup last September, was accused of making the situation worse in the south through human-rights abuses and policy failures.

Mr. Surayud was named interim prime minister in Mr. Thaksin's place, and he quickly apologized to Thailand's Muslims for abuses under Mr. Thaksin. He has visited the region several times to check on security and welfare operations there, and returned from his most recent visit on Sunday.

Anwar said the apology was only a first step towards peace.

"I commend General Surayud's initial statement, but that is just one statement," Anwar said. "You have to follow up, to take measures which would include Buddhist monks, civilian leaders and politicians as a national effort - but be more serious."

Mr. Surayud has also appointed a new national police chief, Seriphisut Themiyawej, who says ending the violence in the South will be one of his top priorities.

But Thai military intelligence reports, seen by VOA, indicate a recent escalation in the bloodshed. The reports note 186 separate attacks in December, leading to the death or injury of 170 people.

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