February 4, 2007 / 8:05 AM / 13 years ago

Thailand mulls security wall on Malaysia border

YALA, Thailand, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Thailand’s army-appointed prime minister said on Sunday he supported building a security wall along part of the border with Malaysia to stop smuggling and illegal border crossings.

Surayud Chulanont, on a tour of Thailand’s Muslim-dominated far south where 2,000 people have been killed in a three-year-old separatist insurgency, avoided any mention of the violence as a reason for building the wall.

"The wall will make it more convenient for us to check border areas," Surayud said of the proposed 27-km (17-mile) wall in the Betong district of the southern province of Yala, one of the three southern provinces bordering Malaysia.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless Sept. 19 coup, infuriated Kuala Lumpur in 2005 when he suggested building a security wall along the entire 500-km (310-mile) border with Malaysia to stop militant infiltration.

Malaysia has repeatedly denied assertions by Thai security agencies that militants are hiding on its territory.

Surayud said there was no need to run the proposal by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who will visit Thailand for annual bilateral talks on Feb. 11-13.

"If we don’t build it, it could disadvantage us because we will face problems with border crossings and smuggling," he told reporters after meeting with Betong’s mayor, whose district is considered a hot spot for militant activity.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for the violence which has seen almost daily gun and bomb attacks in the three predominantly Muslim southern provinces where many hold dual Thai-Malaysian citizenship.

Surayud’s weekend visit is part of a peace drive in the Malay-speaking region, an independent sultanate until the Buddhist-dominated Bangkok government annexed it a century ago.

But the attacks have continued, including an ice cream vendor who was shot dead and beheaded on Thursday in the neighbouring province of Pattani.

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