Mahathir, Thaksin to discuss border issues

By YUWADEE TUNYASIRI (From Bangkok Post of Friday 21 October 2005)

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad will visit Thailand on Nov 21 for talks with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expected to focus on differences stemming from border security tensions. Mr Thaksin said Mr Mahathir was invited by National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) chairman Anand Panyarachun, who asked if he would receive the former Malaysian prime minister as a guest. Mr Thaksin agreed.
The NRC chairman met Mr Mahathir a few weeks ago in Malaysia. The former Malaysian leader denied Kuala Lumpur sympathised with or supported the separatist rebels in Thailand.
Growing sentiment that Malaysia condoned separatism, and the delay in repatriating 131 Thai-Muslims detained in Malaysia for illegal entry have soured bilateral ties.
The prime minister was confident any thorny issues would be resolved quickly as he was well-acquainted with his Malaysian counterpart, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar has been accused of turning up the heat on the simmering diplomatic dispute.
He was quoted by a Malaysian newspaper as saying Malaysia would not hand over the 131 detained Muslims to Thailand unless he had been assured their human rights would be protected.
Some of the detainees claimed Thai authorities branded them insurgent sympathisers and said they fled to escape persecution.
Mr Syed Hamid's remark was met with stern comments by the government.
Mr Thaksin said he would talk to Mr Abdullah to clear the air during next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Pusan, South Korea.
The controversy over the detainees had been played out to look far more problematic than it should be. The solution was to return the 131 villagers to the care and full legal protection of Thai authorities. Justice would be meted out against those who worked for the militants.
He also rebuked the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) for questioning the government's handling of the security woes. The OIC's opinion was tantamount to interference in Thailand's domestic affairs.
The OIC said the emphasis on use of security measures to quell the unrest would create more problems than it solves. It said Muslims in the far South had ``legitimate demands'' but did not elaborate.
Army commander Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin said he was worried the OIC would focus on the southern problem at its meeting in Malaysia next month and that would complicate the army's efforts to quell the violence. The government found a recent statement by OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu equally inflammatory. Mr Ihsanoglu complained of continued violence against Muslims and ``innocent civilians'' and said the OIC had watched developments in the far South with deep concern.

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