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Malaysia Pledges Support to Thailand - 2004-04-12


Malaysia has pledged full support to Thailand to help end an upsurge of violence in the Thai south. The leaders of the two countries met Monday to discuss ways to deal with the escalating problem.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told a news conference after meeting Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that the two countries stand together in their efforts to fight terrorism.

Both men said ending poverty through economic development in the Muslim-dominated southern Thai provinces is the key to halting the violence there.

Thailand is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, but around five percent of its people are Muslim, with the majority living in the five southern provinces adjoining predominately-Muslim Malaysia.

More than 60 people have died in violence that has rocked the region since armed men attacked an army depot in January, killing four soldiers and making off with hundreds of weapons.

Mr. Thaksin blames the unrest on Muslim separatists. He says some have dual nationality and are able to slip easily across the border and find refuge in Malaysia after staging attacks in Thailand.

The Thai leader's accusations drew an angry denial from Malaysia last week, but the two prime ministers appeared to have mended fences as they appeared together Monday in the Malaysian capital.

Mr. Thaksin said he and Mr. Abdullah are of the "same mind" in their analysis of the causes and remedies for southern Thailand. Malaysia, among other things, has suggested that dual nationality be outlawed.

William Case, a Malaysia specialist from Australia's Griffiths University, says although economic development of the southern Thai region would help, the ending of dual nationality would do little to control movements across the border.

"The reason is that the kind of religious and cultural ties ? that exist between those Malays who live in southern Thailand and Malays who live across the border in Malaysia, they're very close," says Mr. Case. "They listen to one another's radio programs and engage in the same sorts of religious activities and cross the border quite freely, too."

Analysts blame the violence in southern Thailand on a combination of Muslim separatists, criminals, and rivalry between the Thai police and military.

But some fear there also may be growing links between Islamic militants in the region and the regional Muslim terrorist network, Jemaah Islamiyah.

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