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6 December 2009

Thai, Malaysian PMs to tour Thai south

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Malaysia and Thailand's leaders will make an unprecedented visit to the troubled Thai south this week, presenting a united front in the face of an insurgent crisis that has killed 4,000 people, reported AFP.

Najib Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia, and his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has struggled to contain the border insurgency, visit the southern province of Narathiwat on Wednesday.

"This is a very symbolic visit.... Both are making a common stand that there should be dialogue and an end to the violence," said Reuben Wong, a foreign policy expert from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

While the trip, part of a visit by Najib to Thailand from December 7-9, may be short on concrete results, analysts said it could provide moral support for Abhisit as he attempts to resolve the Muslim separatist uprising.

"There was bad blood when some Thai officials accused Malaysia of supporting the separatists, so it is important for Najib to stand with Abhisit and say that Malaysia will support a peaceful resolution," Wong said.

"It certainly will add weight to Abhisit's attempt to pacify the south. Leaders in the Thai south see Malaysia as a model and potential friend."

Tensions have simmered in the mainly Muslim Thai region, formerly an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate, since it was annexed in 1902 by mainly Buddhist Thailand.

The latest spate of violence erupted in January 2004 and since then more than 4,000 people have been killed in the impoverished region.

Thailand has in the past accused Malaysia of failing to prevent insurgents criss-crossing the porous 650km border.

But since Najib came to power in April the rhetoric has softened. In October he called on Thailand to offer "some form" of autonomy to the restive region, a proposal backed by Abhisit, who called it the "right approach".


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