Malaysia has rejected a claim by Thailand that Thai restaurants in Malaysia are funding a separatist movement to make violence in Thailand's three southern provinces while some new reports said an Al-Qaida-linked regional terror network has infiltrated in these predominantly Muslim areas.
Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont revealed on Tuesday that some Thai restauranteurs in Malaysia are supporting the insurgent movements in Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, three border provinces of Thailand plagued with violence related to an ongoing insurgency which has claimed more than 1,700 lives since it resumed in early 2004.
But according to Thai news group The Nation on Wednesday, Malaysia's Deputy Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow described the allegation by Surayud as "baseless".
"It is very imaginative of him. It is absolutely baseless. These restaurants are owned by Malaysians and Thais," Kiow was quoted as saying.
On Tuesday, Surayud said that the persistent violence in the southern border provinces is promoted by some people who wrongfully believe in separatism based on differences in religion, race and historical assumptions.
"As a matter of fact," the Thai prime minister said, "we must be based on a fact that Thailand is a place where people of different beliefs and races can live together peacefully."
He added that these groups of insurgents and their supporters are not funded by any foreign countries because both Thailand's Muslim neighbors and Muslim countries elsewhere have acquired better understanding of the Thai government's attempt to solve the problem peacefully after a long period of implementing violent methods.
Surayud revealed that a restaurant and food stall network in Malaysia called "Tom Yam Koong" is a funding source for the Southern insurgents.
"The network collects a 'protection fee' from businessmen -- Thai-Buddhist, Thai-Muslim and Malaysian Chinese -- in the area, which then gives the money to insurgents to create violent activities," he said. "To solve this problem, it is important to promote better understanding among local people. "
"Once better understanding is created," Surayud said, "local residents will provide the authorities with more cooperation."
The premier also called for help from media in promoting better understanding among both Muslim and Buddhist Thais.
"It must be emphasized that some vicious people are trying to do this thing," Surayud said. "We should therefore join hands and help each other."
After the immediate reply from neighboring Malaysia, Thai Interior Minister and Foreign Ministry's spokesman reiterated on Wednesday that the news from both sides won't affect relations between the two neighbors.
Thai Interior Minister Aree Wong-araya said he is confident that Surayud's statements were not aiming at any country, but only some private sector businesses. He said it won't affect relations between the two neighbors and that the news won't worsen the southern unrest.
Aree's assessment was quickly reiterated by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kitti Wasinondh, who reassured.