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New Malaysian PM's Talks in Bangkok Focus on Violence in Thai Muslim Region - 2004-01-16

Malaysia's new prime minister has held talks in Bangkok with his Thai counterpart, aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and cooperation on such matters as terrorism. The talks follow attacks by alleged Muslim insurgents on Thai targets near the Thai-Malaysian border.

The visit to Thailand was the first by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi since being sworn in as prime minister of Malaysia in October. He met Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to discuss cooperation on development programs covering the border region between the two Southeast Asian neighbors.

The talks come as investigations continue into recent attacks on Thai military and police stations in Thailand's largely Muslim south. Thailand itself is primarily Buddhist, while Malaysia is largely Muslim.

Six Thai soldiers and policemen were killed in the violence, which triggered stepped-up cross-border security cooperation.

Mr. Abdullah, speaking to reporters after his meeting with Mr. Thaksin Friday, said they had found common ground in their discussions.

"There are problems, there are issues that need to be discussed, and we did discuss all these various issues and we agreed on how this could be resolved and that was good," he said.

In an earlier newspaper interview, Mr. Abdullah said Malaysia was yet to see any evidence that the regional terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, is linked to the attacks in Thailand. Jemaah Islamiyah is suspected to have been behind a number of acts of violence in the region, including the October 2002 bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people.

Mr. Abdullah said he and Mr. Thaksin hope to promote economic development in the northern states of Malaysia and those of southern Thailand, the center of the recent violence.

He said he assured Mr. Thaksin that Malaysia would also cooperate with Thailand in fighting bandits that operate along the common border.

He said the talks also touched on regional development, tensions on the Korean peninsula and the human rights situation in Burma.

Under Mr. Abdullah's predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia played a central role in pressing Burma's military government to move ahead more quickly with political reform.