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Malaysia Asks Thailand to End Militant Accusations - 2004-04-06

The leaders of Thailand and Malaysia continue to exchange words over the rising violence in Thailand's southern provinces. The prime ministers of the two countries are preparing to meet later this week to discuss border problems, among other issues.

Officials in Thailand say a recent bombing of a nightclub in a southern town was the work of Thais with dual nationality who fled across the border into Malaysia. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra wants to give top priority to the issue of terror suspects with dual nationality crossing the border when he meets with Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The meeting is likely to take place later this week.

Mr. Thaksin says Malaysia must look at its border villages, which he says may be harboring Muslim militants. Southern Thailand, which is predominately Muslim, has suffered rising violence this year, much of it allegedly the work of Muslim separatists.

But Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the defense minister, says Malaysia has found no evidence that border villages are sheltering militants bent on attacking Thailand. He says Malaysia considers the recent violence in southern Thailand an internal security issue. K S Nathan, a Malaysian expert from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says the meeting between Mr. Thaksin and Mr. Abdullah will help resolve problems. ?I think the meeting between the two prime ministers is certainly something that is necessary to clear the air with respect to the problem of Muslim separatism and violence in southern Thailand,? Mr. Nathan said. Jakrapob Penkair, a Thai government spokesman, says that despite occasional disagreements, the two countries have a long history of cooperating with each other. ?I mean when two countries stay (border) together, it's always a love-hate relationship,? Mr. Penkair said. ?There are issues you can cooperate and there are issues that you have to make an agreement how to exist, just like that,? he added.

The vast majority of the population in Malaysia is Muslim, while most Thais are Buddhist. But about five-percent of Thais are Muslim, most of them living in southern Thailand along the Malaysian border.

Thailand largely quashed a separatist movement in the south in the 1980's. The recent violence has claimed nearly 60 lives, most of them non-Muslims, and has prompted a stern government reaction, with troops and police in the south being given more powers.

Mr. Thaksin has asked the military and police to step up security ahead of the Thai new year holiday next week. There are fears of possible terrorist attacks after a huge quantity of explosive materials was stolen from a quarry in southern Thailand last week