Authorities in Malaysia have arrested several Thai citizens suspected of involvement in last week's deadly attacks in southern Thailand. The Thai government has begun a massive hunt for the assailants.
Thai government spokesman Jatkrapob Penkair on Monday said his government has been informed of the arrests in Malaysia, but has no details.
The Malaysian Interior Ministry says the suspects will be turned over to Thai authorities if they are found to be involved in last week's attacks. The announcement come a week after Thailand's foreign minister went to Kuala Lumpur to seek Malaysia's help in capturing the attackers, who may have crossed the border between the two countries.
Mr. Jatkrapob says Thai security officials have been aggressively hunting suspects in the attacks. "The pursuit has been intense on the Thai government's side. The cooperation from Malaysia has been very enhanced and helpful," he says.
However, no arrests have been made in Thailand yet.
Several dozen gunmen attacked an army depot in southern Thailand on January fourth. They killed four soldiers and escaped with more than one hundred guns. At the same time, a score of area schools were firebombed. The following day, two Thai policemen were killed as they tried to defuse a bomb.
Authorities have imposed martial law in parts of the south and have summoned local leaders for questioning.
Muslim separatists waged a low-level guerrilla war in southern Thailand in the 1970's and 1980's, which the government harshly suppressed. The violence subsided in the 1990's but residents still complain of abuse by some security forces and of corruption by some government officials. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of violence in the south.
Some Thai officials say the attackers may be connected to the Jemaah Islamiyah regional network, which has been blamed for deadly bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines, and terrorist plots in Singapore and Thailand.
However, spokesman Mr. Jatkrapob says the situation in Thailand is no different than that in several other Southeast Asian countries, noting that most Muslims are peaceful. "It is not a religious issue. It is not a racial issue," he says. "It is a local problem."
Thailand's deputy prime minister, the defense minister and interior minister have been sent to the south to supervise the search for the attackers.
The situation in the south is expected to be high on the agenda when Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi visits Thailand later this week.