Thai PM to meet Brunei sultan on first trip abroad

The meeting between Yingluck Shinawatra and Hassanal Bolkiah is expected to touch on the insurgency in Thailand`s Muslim south.

Bangkok: Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is expected to meet the sultan of oil-rich Muslim-majority Brunei on her first official trip abroad on Saturday.

The meeting between Yingluck and Hassanal Bolkiah, the sultan of the tiny kingdom on Borneo island, is expected to touch on the insurgency in Thailand`s Muslim south, where near-daily attacks have left thousands dead.

Titima Chaisang, the chief government spokeswoman, said earlier this week that Thailand would thank Brunei, a member of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, for its support.

"Thailand will thank Brunei... for supporting Thailand and helping to explain the problem of unrest in the south to other Muslim countries so Thailand isn`t blamed," she said.

Titima said Brunei also wants Thailand to send agricultural experts to boost its produce and assist in exporting halal food, prepared in accordance with Islamic practices.

The Thai leader will be accompanied by the country`s new foreign minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, at the start of a regional tour encompassing the nine other countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc.

He is scheduled to travel to Indonesia, the ASEAN chair, on Monday.

Yingluck, the sister of ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, took power last month after an overwhelming win in the July 03 election.

In its election campaign, her party proposed semi-autonomy for the deep south, but no steps have been taken toward that.

More than 4,700 people have died, both Muslims and Buddhists, since shadowy insurgents launched an uprising in Thailand`s southernmost region in early 2004.

Critics accuse the authorities of failing to address the grievances of Thailand`s Malay Muslims, including alleged abuses by the military and a perceived lack of respect for their ethnic identity, language and religion.

Bureau Report

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