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Thailand, Malaysia to Cooperate on Series of Development Projects - 2004-08-05

Thailand and Malaysia have agreed to a series of joint development projects aimed at raising living standards along their common border. The projects are part of efforts to end recurring ethnic violence in the region, where most of Thailand's minority Muslim population lives.

Months of violence on the Thai side of the border has been blamed largely on separatist sentiment among Thailand's Muslims. The Thai and Malaysian governments are hoping that the answer to the problem is economic development. At a meeting Thursday chaired by Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and his Malaysian counterpart, Syed Hamid Albar, the two governments announced a program of more than 30 projects in the region covering infrastructure, trade and investment, tourism and agriculture.

Malaysia, a predominately Muslim nation, also plans to assist Muslim schools in Thailand to develop and broaden their curriculums.

Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow said the projects did not represent "a panacea" to end intermittent violence that broke out again in January in Thailand's southern provinces.

But he said they would improve the quality of life for the people of the region, and that this would lead to a lessening of tension.

"We think that by coordinating our development efforts with Malaysia, by trying to combine our development strategy along the border areas, we could draw strength from each other, and this would help promote the standard of living of people on both sides of the border," he said.

The meeting of foreign ministers came as Thai police released a report showing that from January to July there were 298 violent incidents in the country's Southern provinces, most linked to attacks by separatists.

The police report did not detail deaths or injuries, but other reports have put the toll at more than 300 people killed since the violence erupted on January 4.

The two foreign ministers did not say how much the programs will cost, but Mr. Surakiart, Thailand's foreign minister, said his government had already earmarked more than $12 million for infrastructure work over the next fiscal year.