Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Malaysia, Thailand ink pact to boost education, economy in Thailand's insurgency-hit south

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: Malaysia will help train Thai Muslim religious teachers and provide scholarships for students in insurgency-wracked southern Thailand under a pact signed Tuesday, officials said.

Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont arrived in Malaysia late Monday for a three-day official visit aimed at securing Malaysia's help in boosting the economy in Thailand's Muslim-dominated south and curb the insurgency that has killed more than 2,400 people since 2004.

Most of the violence has been in provinces near Thailand's border with Muslim-majority Malaysia, which is concerned that it could destabilize the region.

Surayud and his Malaysian counterpart Abdullah Ahmad Badawi witnessed the signing of the agreement on cooperation in education after talks at the administrative capital, Putrajaya.

The pact will create linkages between the two countries' education institutions especially in southern Thailand, and cover areas such as religious education, curriculum development and training, Malaysia's Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told national Bernama news agency.

Some 100 Thai educators and religious teachers are expected to be sent to Malaysia at the end of this month for training, said a Thai education official, who declined to be named because she is not authorized to speak to the media. No other details were immediately available.

Accompanied by a high-powered entourage that included his foreign, defense, education and interior ministers, Surayud was given a red-carpet welcome at Putrajaya on Tuesday.

Both Surayud and Abdullah are due to fly to the northern resort island of Penang on Wednesday for a meeting expected to focus on security and economic development in Thailand's restive south.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar has said that the leaders were likely to discuss setting up an Islamic bank in southern Thailand, with the expertise provided by Malaysia's central bank.

He has said talks would center on education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for Thailand's southern provinces, which are among the country's poorest and have long complained of discrimination by the government.

Syed Hamid and other ministry officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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