Report: Border wall a political tool for Thai PM

Thai PM Prayut Chan-ocha faces elections in 12 months and is under pressure to deliver on his promises to contain human trafficking and separatist violence. (Reuters pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: The plan to build a Thai-Malaysia border wall in Thailand’s southern province of Songkhla is more about politics than security, Asean Today says.

In an editorial, Asean Today said the wall would be a political tool for Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha to show he has done something to contain human trafficking and separatist violence in the south.

Prayut is expected to hold elections within 12 months.

“It will be something Prayut can point to as a sign that he is trying to solve Thailand’s difficult issues.

“Its effects are unlikely to make any real progress towards a solution for either issue. But this will not stop Prayut from trying to pass off the vague promise of a future border wall as progress,” it said.

On March 16, The Bangkok Post reported that Thailand and Malaysia had agreed to go ahead with a proposal to build a border wall in the province of Songkhla to tighten cross-border security and stem the flow of drugs, weapons, illegal petrol and human trafficking between the two countries.

The agreement was reached during the 54th meeting of the Thai-Malaysia General Border Committee meeting in Bangkok, chaired by the defence ministers of both nations Prawit Wongsuwon and Hishammuddin Hussein.

Prawit reportedly said the proposed 11km border wall would be built at Dan Nok-Dan Sadao in Songkhla, with details to be worked out later.

According to the editorial, the Thai foreign ministry had been pushing for an agreement on the border wall for two years.

“The wall is far more important to Thailand than Malaysia. Cutting down on human trafficking and drug smuggling will benefit both countries. But for Prayut, the wall is a matter of national security.

“Insurgents escape across the border after carrying out attacks in southern Thailand. The wall represents an opportunity for progress in the crusade against the insurgents.”

It said the wall was unlikely to have a serious impact on smuggling efforts, as there were already walls and fences along parts of the 640km border. It noted that smugglers and traffickers often cut holes in the fences or broke through the walls.

It said many human traffickers also worked with local communities and border authorities to remain undetected and that the wall would not stop this collusion.

How effective it will be against insurgents remains to be seen, as much of the Songkhla population holds dual citizenship.

“These citizens will be able to enter and exit Thailand and Malaysia unhindered. It is very probable the insurgents are among them.”

The editorial said Prayut had promised elections in less than 12 months and he needed to demonstrate progress on his promise to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to human trafficking and tackle insurgency in the south. So far, there has not been any noticeable progress in either area.

The Asean Today editorial added that Thailand would likely have to pay for most of the project.

Report: Thailand, Malaysia agree on border wall in Songkhla