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Thailand, Malaysia Agree To Step Up Security Cooperation

Thailand and Malaysia are to increase cross-border cooperation as part of efforts to end more than three years of separatist violence in the Southern-most provinces. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the agreement was reached during an official visit to Thailand by Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and includes efforts to boost economic development and education support.

The agreement between Malaysia and Thailand followed a two-day visit by Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdulah Badawi to Thailand, and marked a major turning point in bilateral relations that soured during the former Thai government of Thaksin Shinawatra.

During formal talks in Bangkok, Mr. Abdualah and Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanot included measures to develop the border areas with Malaysia offering to assist Thailand in Islamic education studies.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Abdullah, expressed concern the violence in the Thai provinces bordering Malaysia remained a threat.

"Southern Thailand is a big concern to us," he said. "We intend to cooperate in whatever way we can so that together we can help to reduce the situation - which at the moment is one of threat to the peace and stability of Southern Thailand."

Since attacks escalated in early 2004, bloodshed has claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 people.

Bilateral relations soured in 2004 amid an escalation of violence and a harder-line policy by the Thaksin government. Mr. Thaksin also accused Malaysia of harboring insurgents.

Mr. Surayud, who replaced Thaksin after a September coup, said a peaceful resolution to the violence was necessary for the region's economic progress.

He said, "Both prime ministers agreed that peace, security and stability in the southern part of Thailand are relevant and important to the northern most part states of peninsular Malaysia and vice versa."

"A peaceful and secure environment is crucial to the economic development and prosperity of these areas," he continued.

Mr. Surayud said Malaysia had welcomed the Thai government's new efforts to achieve reconciliation in the southern provinces.

Rights groups accused the Thaksin government of human-rights abuses in dealing with the insurgency as well as policy failures starting soon after he came to power in 2001. In November Mr. Surayud publicly apologized to Thailand's Muslims for any abuses under the former government.

The increased cross-border cooperation is welcome, says Human Rights Watch representative in Thailand, Sunai Pasuk.

"Cooperation between the governments of Thailand and Malaysia is very important to any effort to address the insurgency in Southern Thailand," he said. "This is the right approach. I am very pleased to see Prime Minister Surayud and Prime Minister Badawai seriously working together."

But analysts say cooperation is just a first step. Separatists stepped up attacks through late 2006 as Mr. Surayud's government made renewed efforts to win back support from the Muslim communities.

Mr. Abdullah also welcomed peace talks between Thai officials and Muslim insurgents negotiated last year by former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, providing Bangkok agrees to participate.