Friday, October 15, 2004

New Thai-Malaysia bridge started

Construction of the long-awaited bridge linking Thailand and Malaysia in the southernmost province of Narathiwat will raise hopes of greater economic development in the impoverished and violence-plagued region.

By Rungrawee C Pinyorat

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Malaysian counterpart, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, yesterday presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for the second Golok Bridge, linking Buketa village in Narathiwat’s Waeng district to Bukit Bunga in the Malaysian state of Kelantan.
Mahama Sordi, a resident of Buketa, was among hundreds of villagers waiting in a heavy rains for the arrival of the two leaders.
“In all my life, I’ve never seen the leaders of Thailand and Malaysia come to my village,” said Mahama.
First proposed in 1994, the 120-metre concrete bridge will cost Bt60 million to build. The two countries will share the cost equally. It should be completed in a year.
“I have been waiting to see this bridge built for more than a decade,” said Isma-ae Meangsamong, 58.
He said the bridge would make it easier for him to take durians from his orchard to sell in Malaysia. It will also make it easier for him to visit relatives in Bukit Bunga.
Up until now, people have used long-tail boats to cross the border, paying Bt5 per trip.
This will be the third international border crossing between Thailand and Malaysia in Narathiwat, after the Tak Bai and Sungai Kolok checkpoints.
Abdul Aziz bin Ibrahim, chief of Malaysian Customs at Bukit Bunga, said the bridge will benefit Thais more than it will Malaysians economically, because more goods from Thailand are sold in Malaysia.
Approximately 200 people cross the border here each day.
Travellers are normally required to have a passport or border pass to cross, but there are exceptions for familiar faces who cross as part of their daily lives, Abdul said.
It is common for Muslims in the South to have relatives in Malaysia. The artificial boundary of the two nations does not keep them apart.
The Malaysian prime minister said in Phuket on Wednesday the bridge project projects “a good signal” that the two governments wish to encourage a free flow of people between the two sides of the river.
However, tighter security measures will be put in place as part of government efforts to prevent militants from using the bridge to seek refuge in Malaysia.
Abdullah said that frequent border-crossers will use a new ID equipped with security features. Information on the cards will be shared between the two states.
Weerachat Jehdoloh, 41, a religious leader in Buketa, said the bridge would help promote economic activity, but would not bring peace to the region.
The two governments believe that economic development will help tackle the root cause of Islamic militancy in the long run.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"