Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday that Thailand should offer a certain degree of autonomy to people in the predominantly Muslim region to allow them to be good Muslims in the predominantly Buddhist kingdom.
Najib, who is to tour the restive South with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in December, said he would tell them that Kuala Lumpur would not support extremists who violate Thai laws.
“Look, you know you just have to be good Thai citizens. Don’t expect Malaysia to back any violation of Thai law. You are on your own and if they [law breakers] come over, we will send you back,” the Malaysian Prime Minister said.
Abhisit invited Najib to tour the deep South after the Thailand-Malaysia’s annual consultative meeting and he said he would love to see people living in the region.
Najib said some form of autonomy could be a solution to end the violence, which has claimed more than 3,800 live since the beginning of 2004.
“You may not want to call it autonomy but there could at least be some form of involvement,” he said. The government could offer self-determination for people in areas that are important to them such as the selection of local leaders, employment, religion and education, he said.
“It is Thailand’s decision to consider how far such autonomy in the deep South should go, and Malaysia, as a neighbour, would not intervene in the matter, he said.
“Our part is to be supportive. We will not negotiate on your behalf. We will do what a good neighbour should do,” he said. Independence from Thailand championed by any organisation is unrealistic for Muslims in the South, he said.
“They have to be loyal to Thailand, the King and the Constitution, but at the same time they should be good Muslims and should be allowed to act as good Muslims,” he said.
However, the major issue affecting bilateral relations between the two countries and the situation in the Malay-speaking South is the question of dual citizenship by people who exploit legal loopholes to criss-cross the border, he said.
Malaysia wanted to resolve the problem with Thailand and tell some 20,000-25,000 people who hold dual nationality to choose either Thai or Malaysian citizenship, he said.
Some times extremists exploit their dual nationality to seek safe haven in Malaysia’s northern states but Najib said he had no solid evidence to prove whether the opposition party, based in the north has harboured them.
Malaysian authorities would arrest and send them back to Thailand if it was learned that any of them had fled from prosecution to Malaysia, he said.
Najib gave an example of 130 people from Narathiwat who were sent back three years ago after fleeing from persecution at home to the northern states of Kelantan and Terengganu to show co-operation from Malaysia. Some of them were accused of involvement in the violence before fleeing.
The Malaysian Prime Minister said he saw no outside elements in causing the violence in the deep South but suggested that if the situation were prolonged, it would open up opportunities for outsiders to become involved.