By Julia Zappei
The Associated Press
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia has pledged to help young Muslims in neighboring Thailand to secure better education and employment to ease violence sparked by an Islamic separatist movement.
Leaders of both countries discussed measures to bring economic progress to southern Thailand, including Malaysia’s role of providing scholarships for Thai Muslim students and helping to develop the education system in Thai provinces bordering northern Malaysia.
“In terms of creating opportunities particularly for young people in the area, I think that Malaysia has very important contributions,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters after a meeting with his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, during a visit to Malaysia.
Najib said he and Abhisit plan to visit a religious school in Thailand’s Muslim-dominated south in order for both leaders to talk to the people “so that the right kind of message can be transmitted” to the south.
No date was immediately scheduled for the visit.
“We remain optimistic that things can get a lot better if we continue to emphasize on economic development, on giving them a better future,” Najib said.
An Islamic insurgency launched in 2004 has killed more than 3,400 in Thailand’s southern provinces, which are among the country’s poorest. A massive government counterinsurgency effort has slowed the pace of attacks but has shown little sign of ending the violence.
The attacks are believed intended to frighten Buddhist residents into leaving. The insurgents have never publicly declared their exact goal, but they have complained about discrimination in Buddhist-dominated Thailand. ♦