In an unprecedented move, Malaysia has offered to provide temporary shelters for Thai nationals seeking refuge in the wake of the unrest in southern Thai provinces, its Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, said yesterday.
"Some arrangements had to be made if there is a sudden influx of terrified people crossing the border to seek shelter," Kuala Lumpur-based The Star quoted Abdullah as saying.
"They will want a place of refuge until peace returns to their area and with the uncertainty at present, naturally they will want to come over here," he said.
But, it would not be a refugee camp, he said.
Most people living in southern border provinces, including Yala, Pattani and Songkla are Muslims of Malay stock.
It is the first time that Malaysia has reacted to the situation by offering temporary shelters. Malaysia normally has a very tough immigration policy.
No Thai Foreign Ministry officials could be reached for comment last night.
A total of 108 Muslim militants were killed on Wednesday after they attacked security posts in three provinces that border Malaysia.
Abdullah said his deputy, Najib Razak and Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar will visit Bangkok soon to ask for more information about the clashes so that Malaysia could have a clearer picture of what really happened.
"We do not want to take any action that might be misunderstood by the Thai government," he said.
The violence just across Malaysia's border has outraged many of the country's majority Muslims Malays.
The spiritual leader of Malaysia's conservative Islamic opposition denounced this week's raid by Thai security forces on a mosque in southern Thailand, in which 32 young militants were killed.
"Islam forbids Muslims from attacking churches or temples," Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the spiritual leader of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), told Reuters after delivering his weekly sermon.
"Even in times of war, Muslims cannot attack people taking shelter in churches. So the attack on the mosque is totally unacceptable," said Nik Aziz, who is also chief minister of the opposition-held state of Kelantan.
But the normally outspoken Nik Aziz refrained from criticising Thailand over the violence, saying he would not interfere in the domestic affairs of another country.
But Sallehuddin Ayob, youth chief of PAS, said Thai authorities had to be held accountable for the high death toll.
"This is oppression, a massacre against Muslims. Until now, they have not been able to prove that those people were terrorists," he said.
He urged Malaysia to press for an emergency Asean meeting to find a peaceful solution to Thailand's southern troubles.
If not handled effectively, the unrest would escalate as happened with Muslims in Myanmar and Aceh, Ambon in Indonesia and Mindanao in the southern Philippines, he said.
The party of jailed deputy prime minister, the National Justice Party (Keadilan), blamed Abdullah for the violence in southern Thailand.
"Lest we forget, during his meeting with his Thai counterpart recently, Abdullah made a public statement committing full support to the Thai government for all actions it would take against so-called criminals and terrorists," Syed Husin Ali, Keadilan's deputy president said in a statement.
"Premier Thaksin, through his military, has now acted in a violent way in southern Thailand. Ironically, Abdullah can be held partly responsible for the tragedy. There is no need for anybody to shed crocodile tears," the statement said.
The Nation, Agencies
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"