By AZLAN JAAFAR / Pic AFP
Malaysia and Thailand have agreed to pursue a resolution to the Southern Thailand conflict, remove bureaucratic procedures at border crossings, and curb human smuggling along the porous border between the two countries.
Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia and Thailand had registered a strong trade growth over the years and there are huge opportunities to increase the value for the benefit of the people of both countries.
To facilitate trade and movement of goods, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia and Thailand agreed to open 24 hours the Bukit Kayu Hitam border crossing and build new bridges at Pangkalan Kubor and Rantau Panjang Sungai Golok, Kelantan.
“We can build greater trades between the two countries if we can solve the bureaucracy at the borders. The close relationship will increase wealth for both nations, especially at border crossings,” he said at a joint press conference with Thailand PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Government House in Bangkok yesterday afternoon.
Presently, there are four border crossings connecting both nations, two in Kelantan, one in Kedah and one in Perlis.
Dr Mahathir said efforts by both countries must be channelled towards ensuring no disruptions in the movement of goods and people.
He said the greater cooperation of both nations can also be seen from the movement of people between Langkawi and Thailand’s Satun province.
Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir reiterated Malaysia’s commitment to finding a lasting resolution to the conflict in Southern Thailand that had killed thousands, created volatility at the borders of both nations and prevented development in the area.
“Malaysia pledges to help in anyway possible to end the violence in the South and with the cooperation of both countries, the problem will be reduced, if not ended altogether,” said Dr Mahathir.
Malaysia’s PM also wants to work with Bangkok to address the rising concern of human smuggling between the two countries.
“This will need to stop. We need to stop both Thailand and Malaysia from becoming a conduit (of human trafficking) to other places,” he said.
Malaysia and Thailand share hundreds of kilometres of land border, largely unsupervised jungle areas that are used to traffic humans and goods.
Dr Mahathir said Thailand and Malaysia have a strong relationship and will foster an even greater relationship in the future.
“I hope leaders who know each other will solve problem much better. This is our hope and it would be realised soon.”
Meanwhile, Prayut said Malaysia will continue its role to facilitate frank discussions and dialogues and work towards bringing economic development along the border.
“It will be a a new chapter in development,” he said. “I assured him (Dr Mahathir) that the dialogue will continue with Malaysia as the facilitator. It shall be carried out, however, within the framework of Thailand’s constitution,” said Prayut.
Dr Mahathir, who arrived yesterday morning, is on a two-day official visit to Thailand. He is accompanied by his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Ignatius Darell Leiking and senior government officials.
The visit to Thailand was his second to an Asean member since assuming the PM post again in May. His first visit was to Jakarta.
Dr Mahathir and Malaysian officials were also treated to a state banquet by the Thai government yesterday. Earlier, both leaders had a 30-minute private discussion before the officials from both nations had a delegation meeting.
Kuala Lumpur has a strong diplomatic relationship with its northern neighbour. Thais, especially in the Southern provinces, share cultural, language and racial similarities with Malaysians along the border.
But the insurgency in South Thailand has been a concern for both Putrajaya and Bangkok.
Violence over the last 14 years in Thailand’s three Southern provinces of Patani, Yala and Narathiwat had killed more than 6,500 people and left thousands injured. It had dragged the people in the areas to sustained poverty and hardship.
Malaysia had highlighted that backwardness and underdevelopment had been among the reasons the separatists were taking up arms against Bangkok.
The Muslim-majority region is demanding for a separate state, or an autonomy to rule, an idea which has been shot down by Bangkok’s past administrations.
Dr Mahathir, during his first stint as the PM, had resonated the need to a peaceful resolution in Thailand’s troubled South. Malaysia believes that lasting peace within the areas that both nations share over a 400-mile (644km) border, will bring significant economic and social wellbeing. Malaysia recently appointed Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor to spearhead talks to find a resolution to the conflict.
Thailand, which is Asia’s eight-largest economy, is also Malaysia’s key trading partner with total trade between both nations reaching RM98.69 billion last year.
Thailand has also risen into an economic powerhouse with its GDP hitting 15.45 trillion baht (RM1.89 trillion), surpassing its two Southern neighbours of Malaysia and Singapore.
Despite the military rule, the Thai government has steered the nation to its highest economic growth in five years and is expected to post a 4.5% growth this year.
- Mohamad Azlan Jaafar is the deputy editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.