Thai-Malaysia border wall to be discussed

PMs of both countries meeting today for talks focusing on security cooperation, investment

VIENTIANE • Thailand and Malaysia will discuss plans to build a wall along their shared border, Thai officials said yesterday , a day before Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was set to meet his counterpart in Bangkok.

Human trafficking and the smuggling of drugs and weapons are among the transnational crimes that have flourished along the 640km-long Thai-Malaysia border, until a crackdown by Thailand last year disrupted regional trafficking routes.

Datuk Seri Najib is to meet Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o- cha on an official visit today that will focus on security cooperation and investment.

The wall is on the agenda for the meeting, said a Thai Foreign Ministry official.

"It will be on the agenda during Mr Najib's visit, but it will not be the biggest item on the agenda," spokesman Chinawut Setawat said at a regional meeting in the Laotian capital of Vientiane.

"It is still at the memorandum of understanding phase," said Colonel Yutthanam Petchmuang, a spokesman for Thailand's Internal Security Operations Command. Malaysia's Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Najib's visit follows three deadly bomb attacks in southern Thailand over the past month, including a wave of bombs in tourist towns in August that Thai police have linked to Muslim separatists operating in the country's south.

The porous Thai-Malaysia border has also been a site for the smuggling of weapons, drugs and illegal oil. After taking power in a May 2014 coup, Thailand's junta promised what it called a "zero tolerance" policy of human trafficking and launched a nationwide crackdown on vice and crime.

In January 2004, a shadowy separatist insurgency by ethnic Malays resurfaced in Thailand, after simmering for decades.

Since then, 6,500 people have been killed, says Deep South Watch, a body that monitors the violence.

Thailand's three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat were once part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate until they were annexed by Thailand in 1909.

Two issues in particular have spurred the interest of Malaysia and Thailand in building a border wall, said Mr Srisompop Jitpiromsri, the director of Deep South Watch. "The first is to stop the flow of illegal goods, whether it is petrol, drugs or human trafficking," he said.

"The second reason is that insurgents operating in Thailand regularly cross the border and use Malaysia as a safety base."

Yet it remains unclear how far the wall will reduce crime.

"There are still many logistical issues to address before building the wall," Mr Srisompop said. "It's a tremendously long area."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'Thai-Malaysia border wall to be discussed'. Print Edition | Subscribe