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Thaksin, Badawi tackle border issues

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LAGUNA PHUKET: In two hours of consultation yesterday, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin and Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi discussed progress on initiatives aimed at improving bilateral ties and improving security in the troubled region along the border between the two countries.

The initiatives, laid out in the nine-point Joint Development Strategy (JDS) Action Plan signed by the two countries in August, are aimed at improving monitoring at border checkpoints through the use of “smart cards”, to be issued by both governments to their citizens, and at preventing the spread of avian ‘flu.

The mini-summit, held yesterday at the Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, was also attended by Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapallop, Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, Agriculture Minister Wan Muhamad Nor Matha and Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit, all of whom met for private talks with their Malaysian counterparts.

The entire entourage made the journey from Bangkok aboard the Prime Minister’s new Airbus A319, purchased with more than 1 billion baht in taxpayer money. It was the maiden journey by the aircraft, officially named Thai Khu Fa, but dubbed “Air Force One” by the media.

In a joint declaration to the press after the talks, PM Thaksin said the signing of an agreement to build a new bridge over the Kolok River in Narathiwat was proof that long-standing good relations between the two countries were continuing.

PM Thaksin said the talks had been productive and that he was satisfied with Malaysian efforts to provide security assistance in the troubled border provinces of Yala, Pattan and Narathiwat.

Malaysian PM Badawi said both countries shared the common objective of bringing peace and development to the border region, and that this fact was demonstrated by the JDS.

“The joint project to construct the bridge over the Kolok River was a good signal of how [we] wanted to facilitate access for people from both sides. The total budget was 8 million Malaysian Ringgit [87.3 million baht]. Each side will pay half. It is a small but important project,” he said.

The contract was due to be signed in Narathiwat today by both leaders and the bridge is scheduled for completion in September, 2006.

The Malaysia PM added that, besides tracking the movements of large numbers of Thais and Malaysians who cross the border frequently, the smart cards would also contain other security features.

He added that both countries would also increase their efficiency in combating communicable diseases such as bird flu.

“[When] anything happens on our side, we will immediately tell our friends in Thailand so that precautions can be taken,” he said.

Describing the talks, he said, “It was a formal meeting [carried out] in an air of informality.”

After the meeting Deputy Government Spokewoman Sansanee Narkpong told reporters that the leaders had also agreed eventually to allow the free flow of fresh food products across the border.

This morning, before flying to Narathiwat, the two premiers and their entourages – numbering about 50 people – enjoyed a round of golf at the Blue Canyon Country Club.

 

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