Malaysians voice support for Thai Muslims

Sept. 6, 2005 at 7:05 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Muslim leaders in Malaysia have called on Thailand to drop its hard-line tactics in its southern provinces, saying it could spark an exodus of Muslims.

They have also promised to protect any refugees who flee southern Thailand, Channel NewsAsia reported Tuesday. Thai authorities were angered by the flight to Malaysia of 131 Thai Muslims last week, describing them as insurgents in disguise.

Malaysian leaders have advised Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to try to strengthen trust with the country's Muslim minority, to withdraw the heavy military presence and lift last month's emergency decree in the south.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Monday that his country would not interfere in Thailand's internal affairs, but called on the Thai government to be sensitive to its neighbor's fears.

Thailand's south is predominantly Muslim, as is most of Malaysia. The southern provinces have been wracked by violence since early last year, which authorities blame on Islamic insurgents, criminal gangs and drug dealers.

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