Ambassadors from Islamic Cooperation visits South Thailand

Pattani Central Mosque, image courtesy of Thailand Tourism Directory

A delegation of ambassadors from eight Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries recently visited Thailand’s southern border provinces, aiming to understand the region’s multicultural society and assess potential areas for trade, investment, tourism, and education.

The delegation included ambassadors from Brunei, Egypt, and Iran, along with chargés d’affaires from Malaysia, Nigeria, and the Maldives. Deputy chiefs of mission from Indonesia and Uzbekistan, and Thai ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, and Turkey also joined the visit. The OIC, comprising 57 member states, represents a significant international presence.

The visit has raised hopes among locals in the insurgency-affected southern provinces for a boost in exports and tourism. The three southernmost provinces, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat have historically lagged economically.

According to the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) data from 2019, these provinces ranked 50th, 65th, and 76th out of Thailand’s 76 provinces in terms of per capita GDP. The local economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, often impacted by unstable prices.

Secretary-General of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), Wannapong Kotcharak identified primary issues hindering progress: unequal access to economic, educational, and public health benefits, and socio-psychological challenges arising from diverse identities and beliefs.

During their visit, the delegation explored several cultural and educational sites, including the Islamic Heritage Museum and Al-Quran Learning Centre in Narathiwat’s Yi-ngor district, which houses ancient Islamic texts. They also visited the Pattani Central Mosque, admired local art such as Yaring batik, and enjoyed multicultural dance performances.

Community efforts

Meetings with small businesses and local NGOs underlined community efforts towards empowerment and violence eradication. Yaring Batik Community Enterprise Group spokesperson Kaneungnit Phattarapongnopkul emphasises the need for a helping hand within the community.

“Even though we are a small group within our community, we are ready to enter the international market. We just need an opportunity.”

President of the Career Group Network in Yala, Yindee Poonpinyo expressed hopes that the province would attract international buyers who recognise its potential. She emphasised the need for government alignment with target countries’ demands.

A village head in Narathiwat, Sabareeyah Chemoh highlights tourism as a crucial sector, calling for more government support. She noted the significant number of Thai students studying in OIC countries, indicating the potential for educational collaboration.

SBPAC’s Wannapong acknowledged that insurgency remains a concern for tourists and investors but highlighted a downward trend in violence. Data from the National Security Council showed a 66% reduction in violent incidents from 2017 to early 2024.

Brunei Ambassador Pengiran Sahari Pengiran Salleh emphasised cultural similarities between the deep South and Brunei and identified Thailand as a key trading partner, particularly in rice imports. He expressed hope that the visit would encourage other OIC countries to explore opportunities in sectors like halal food and other industries in southern Thailand.

Bilateral ties

Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul remarked that the visit strengthens bilateral ties, contributing to stability, sustainability, and prosperity. He reaffirmed Thailand’s commitment to cooperation with Muslim countries in areas like food security, energy, and climate change.

The visit by the OIC delegation has instilled optimism in the southern provinces of Thailand, with locals and officials alike hopeful for enhanced economic prospects and stronger international ties. The focus on multiculturalism, education, and security underscores a collective effort towards a brighter future for the region, reported The Nation.

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Ryan Turner

Ryan is a journalism student from Mahidol University with a passion for history, writing and delivering news content with a rich storytelling narrative.

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