The car bomb that killed at least six and injured dozens of people in southern Thailand on Thursday signifies how the war is actually escalating. With thousands of people killed over the past 12 years, the conflict has turned into a personal vendetta - between the Muslims against security forces and among religious sects.
Malaysia, as usual, views the development within the scope of our border security with Thailand. However, diplomatic engagement with Bangkok does not permit us to come into the picture, notably in providing humanitarian assistance to the Muslims there.
On September 8,
PM Najib met with his Thai counterpart Yingluck
Shinawatra, at the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) meeting held in Vladivostok, Russia. Najib
assured Yingluck that Malaysia would cooperate
fully in solving problems related to the
insurgency and said that he was satisfied with
Thailand's policies towards the restive region.
Despite these diplomatic niceties, the two
countries have a conflicted history over
Thailand's predominantly Malay Muslim southernmost
provinces. In the 1960s and 1970s, for instance,
Malaysia was complicit in providing assistance to
separatist groups fighting against Thai rule.
While we deny any involvement with the separatist groups, it goes by tradition that the borders between Thailand and Perlis, Perak, Kedah and Kelantan share a lot of common when it comes to people-to-people relations.
It is a sensitive issue.
separatist insurgency began to resurface in 2001,
Thai authorities hoped for cooperation with their
Malaysian counterparts to track down separatist
figures based in Malaysia, end the use of dual
nationality to tighten border security, and clamp
down on smuggled goods, particularly oil and
A bilateral border agreement
signed in 2000 that focused on combating
criminality and promoting cooperation in areas of
socioeconomic development initially signaled a
new era of bilateral cooperation, but Malaysian
assistance dwindled as the insurgency intensified.
aggravated relations further when he repeatedly
criticized Malaysia's position, including its
treatment of Malay Muslims who crossed the border
into Malaysia from Thai conflict areas as
On the day Malaysia celebrated Merdeka on Aug 31, the Muslims in southern Thailand hoisted Malaysian flags everywhere in the region - Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Songkhla.
It was perceived as a
stark reminder that Malaysia will need to play a
significant complementary role if the
unprecedented levels of violence that have
engulfed the historically restive ethnic minority
region since early 2004 are to be subdued.
While it marked the anniversary
of Malaysia's independence, it also symbolised the founding of Bersatu, a separatist umbrella
group established in 1989.
Thai officials said soon after
the incidents that insurgents were trying to spark
a conflict between Thailand and Malaysia. Other
sources with access to the movement, however,
suggested that the incidents underscored a
longstanding desire among many in the shadowy
separatist movement for Malaysia to play an
intermediary role in a negotiated peace process
with the Thai government.
However, the issue is far too delicate. Malaysia, in avoiding Thai allegation of interfering in its internal matters and distant itself from the conflict, has somehow given the Thai Muslims a 'soft permitting' to enter and stay in the country.
The Immigration Department did not 'disturb' the Thais - close to one million of them - who work, study and doing their 'tomyam' business in Malaysia. Under the 6P program, they were 'excused'.
However, both countries should continue engagement on the issue before the conflict crosses the border. While showing great concern and sympathy towards the Muslims in southern Thailand, we could at least work within the diplomatic conduct to secure a more stable and war-free zone in the region.
Developing the region within the scope of Malaysia-Thai Border Authority is still the best option to bring about progress and peace at the border. The immigration from both sides must also work on a formula to control the passing in and out by people from both sides. If we can do that with Singapore, we can also have it with Thailand.
After all, we are two separate nations!