BANGKOK: Fighting terrorism and cracking down on smuggling across their restive border will top the agenda at Friday’s talks between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Thailand’s junta, officials said.
Thailand’s three Muslim-majority southernmost provinces are plagued by a bloody insurgency, and the porous 650-kilometer (400 mile) border with Malaysia is also a crime hotbed, criss-crossed by human traffickers, drug mules and weapon smugglers.
During Najib’s state visit to Bangkok, the Malaysian leader and his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-O-Cha will discuss building a new stretch of fence along a small section of the border, according to Thailand’s defense ministry spokesman.
“It is an effort to prevent the smuggling of contraband, human trafficking and increase security,” Major General Kongcheep Tantravanich told Agence-France Presse, adding that the idea is still at an early stage.
Muslim insurgents are thought to routinely slip across the border to seek refuge from Thai troops seeking to quell their fight for greater autonomy from the Buddhist-majority state.
The insurgency has killed thousands of people, mostly civilians, since the most recent wave of rebellion erupted in 2004.
The Malaysian premier’s visit comes amid a flare-up of violence in the region, with three deadly bombings in the past month.
While the violence has historically been contained to the southernmost provinces, analysts believe the rebels were also behind a string of bombings that struck Thai tourist towns further north in August.
The Thai and Malaysian leaders will discuss ways to advance dialogue with the insurgents, according to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Malaysia is currently hosting talks between the Thai government and a group that claims to represent the insurgents, with the latest meeting held in Kuala Lumpur last week.
However the talks have yet to bear any fruit and the recent uptick in violence suggests the rebel negotiators have little sway over fighters on the ground.
In comments published in the Bangkok Post Friday, Najib stressed the two governments’ commitment to fending off terrorism and said Malaysia was “honored to be the facilitator of the peace process.”
The two leaders are also looking to increase trade and strengthen economic ties during Najib’s visit.