OIC: Thai government on right track to solving problems in southernmost provinces

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BANGKOK, May 11 — The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) high-level representatives hailed their visit a success in gathering firsthand information on the problems in Thailand’s southernmost provinces and were confident the Thai government was on the right track to ending the problems.

High-level representatives of the OIC led by Ambassador Sayed Kassem El-Masry, the OIC secretary general’s adviser, are on an official visit to Thailand from May 7-13 at the invitation of the Thai government to gather current information on the country’s Muslim majority southern border region as well as observe the government’s efforts and policy to develop the region.

At a joint press conference with Thai Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow on Friday, Sayed Kassem said that the situation in the three southernmost provinces has improved compared with his latest visit to Thailand in 2005.

From his observations, Sayed Kassem said the government previously considered the problem from the security aspect only, but has now included the political, cultural and economic dimensions.

Thailand’s approach to solving problems in the southern border provinces is in accordance with His Majesty King Bhumibol’s “Understanding, Access and Development” strategies, he said.

Sayed Kassem said the OIC will not support separatism and considered the southern violence problem as Thailand’s internal affairs and that the OIC will not interfere in the internal affairs of Thailand.

The OIC condemned the use of violence by all parties and any killing of innocent civilians from any quarters, including the military, he said.

While acknowledging limitations of the OIC’s influence when dealing with the southern conflict as it had to respect the Thailand sovereignty, Sayed Kassem said OIC could offer advice when engaging with the Thai government.

“OIC, through the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), could contribute to the economic development of the southern region,” he said.

In the cultural and social aspects, he said OIC could offer scholarships and teachers training programmes.

He added that the OIC hoped that when the situation has improved, the Thai government would eventually lift the Emergency Decree enforced in the three southern provinces,  because the special law has been blamed for human rights violations by state officials.

Mr Sayed Kassem said he would prepare a report of his visit for the Council of Ministers which would meet later this year.

Mr Sihasak said that during the visit, OIC delegates have visited the southern provinces and held talks with  representatives from the government, Muslim community leaders and youth.

He said the OIC representatives understood that the problem of unrest in the deep South was not related to religious differences but a normal problem for a country with minority population.  He added that the representatives suggested that promoting mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual recognition should be the right approach to addressing the problem.