Anwar’s visit to Thailand brings ‘Deep South’ to top of agenda

China’s plans for high-speed trains pass through the region

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is due in Bangkok today to meet Thai PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha. Anwar’s visit to Thailand brings issues in the “Deep South” to the top of the diplomatic agenda.

The provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and parts of Songkhla are an important crossroads for trade between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.

China’s plans for high-speed trains from its Yunnan province to Singapore will have to pass through the “Deep South.”

The area was annexed by Buddhist-majority Thailand over a century ago and has been governed under martial law since 2004. According to Aljazeera, there are widespread allegations of rights abuses as well as the oppression of Malay culture.

More than 7,000 people have died in that time. Most were civilians caught in security operations as well as attacks by separatist groups, who move freely across the porous border to Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur has mediated several rounds of peace talks between Bangkok and some insurgent factions, but the talks have made little impact.

Mara, an umbrella organisation which started peace talks several years ago, was shunted aside as the government sought to engage the Barisan Revolusi Nasional which is believed to have greater command and control of insurgent cells on the ground. Thailand’s unofficial back-channel discussions outside the official peace negotiations have deepened mistrust.

At stake during Anwar’s visit to Thailand is a fertile, lush area home to plantations of durian, palm oil, and rubber, as well as a key node in plans to connect ASEAN by rail and roads.

Last February, Anwar’s predecessor Ismail Sabri Yaakob agreed to carry out a feasibility study for a high-speed rail route between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Anwar’s visit to Thailand is a sign that the key to any significant development is keeping the peace.

The existing line is sporadically hit by bomb blasts. In December three railway workers were killed in Sadao, Thailand, just 23 kilometres from the Malaysia border.

Despite the violence, Sungai Kolok in Thailand’s Narathiwat province has remained popular with Malaysian day trippers, lured by food and entertainment – including late night karaoke bars populated by sex workers from Thailand, and Laos.

Anwar's visit to Thailand brings ‘Deep South’ to top of agenda | News by Thaiger

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.

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