The defence ministers of Malaysia and Thailand in Bangkok have addressed border controls, dual citizenship and counter-terror cooperation, with a short wall proposed for one of the trouble spots.
The 54th bilateral border committee, chaired by Malaysian defence minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, and his Thai counterpart, Prawit Wongsuwon, saw the neighbours agree to build an 11-km wall along the border in unstable Songkhla.
A wall bordering the war zone in southern Thailand has been proposed by Bangkok in the past but received little enthusiasm in Kuala Lumpur.
Military-appointed Prawit told the media that the wall would be built at Dan Nok-Dan Sadao in Songkhla, leaving the rest of the 640-km frontier unchanged. He said it would help to disrupt the trafficking of drugs, people, weapons and illegal fuel across the border.
The conflict in the “deep” or “restive” south, as it is called in the Thai media, attracts little foreign attention, despite the bitter, ongoing insurgency that ignited in 2004.
The ethnically Malay, Muslim militants seldom attack north of the three troubled provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat (or Patani, Jala and Menara in Malay). But their cause would attain far more coverage if they targeted the adjacent tourist hotspots of Samui and Phuket.
The wall is in Sadao district where 20 Uyghur asylum seekers, who had fled alleged oppression in China, broke out of an immigration detention centre last year and several reached Malaysia.
Both sides have also agreed to pursue wider border development projects to stimulate trade and enhance social development and expand joint operations to increase border security.
Hussein and Prawit discussed, as defence ministers normally do, joint military exercises. These would reportedly have a focus on natural disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
Prawit also said a deal would be signed on the issue of dual citizenship.
Malaysia does not allow its citizens to hold dual citizenship but both governments admit that they have no figures on how many people hold dual nationality.
“The move is needed to enhance security and surveillance in the ‘restive’ south,” the Thai general said.
“This is because dual citizenship is often regarded as a legal loophole allowing people suspected of carrying out attacks in the ‘deep’ south to easily slip across the border into Malaysia to hide,” Prawit said, according to the Bangkok Post.
The general said no insurgents in the border provinces had declared an allegiance to so-called Islamic State but information-sharing would continue in the future.
The Danok Sadao border. Picture credit: Wikimedia