09/05/2005, 00.00
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Malaysia to help Thailand spread moderate Islam

Malaysian government offers to teach 'tolerance' to Thai Muslim clerics. Number of Muslim attacks is up as hundrerds flee across the border.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Malaysia is ready to help Thailand spread moderate Islamic teachings to predominantly Muslim provinces of southern Thailand in order to nip Muslim revolts in the bud. The plan is for Thai Muslim scholars to visit Malaysia and learn "about tolerance," which they could then spread in the restive regions along the border of the two countries, Hamid Othman, Islamic adviser to the Malaysian Prime Minister, said in an interview today.

The offer comes as Thailand's south has been rocked by a series of bombings, shootings and arsons over the past week, forcing scores of villagers—at least 131 last week—to seek refuge across the border in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government has initially offered to send clerics to Thailand to help propagate a moderate version of Islam to help calm the rebellion that has killed about 950 people over the past 20 months.

Many in Malaysia sympathise with Thai Muslims who have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

About 300 Malaysians are also studying in religious schools in southern Thailand and many are returning home because of the escalating violence.

One of them, Sabri Ismail, said that for Thai soldiers anyone wearing a skull cap and sarong—traditional Islamic dress in the region—is viewed as Muslim and subjected to security checks.

"The soldiers were nice to us," he noted, "but there is no guarantee of safety so we decided to return home."

Malaysia's Islamic opposition warned Thailand over the weekend that heavy-handed policies toward Muslims will lead to more bloodshed, and called for peaceful negotiations to end the conflict.

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