Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim expressed optimism Thursday over the prospects of lasting peace for Thailand’s troubled deep south, pledging to do whatever it takes following talks with his Thai counterpart in Bangkok.
A low-level conflict in Thailand’s southern provinces has been simmering since 2004 and claimed more than 7,000 lives as rebels in the Muslim-majority region battle for greater autonomy from the state.
Malaysia is set to host peace talks in Kuala Lumpur this month between the Thai government and the separatist movement Barisan Revolusi Nasional.
The conflict dominated Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s meeting with Anwar on his first bilateral visit to Thailand as leader since his election victory last year.
“We agree to cooperate in solving the problem as best we can,” Prayut told reporters.
The small skirmishes had created much tension, distrust and resentment, Anwar said.
While it was an internal matter for Thailand, Malaysia stood ready to assist and would express its concerns frankly, he added.
“It is our duty as good neighbors and friends to do whatever is required and necessary to facilitate the process,” Anwar told reporters.
“I am very optimistic that we can resolve this.”
Malaysian General Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, a former armed forces chief, has been appointed a peace facilitator.
Thailand’s far south — heavily policed by security forces — is culturally distinct from the rest of the Buddhist-majority country, which took control of the area bordering Malaysia over a century ago.
Representatives of the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional met in Kuala Lumpur last year for their first in-person peace talks in about two years, though no breakthrough was achieved.