BANGKOK: A delegation from the world's largest Muslim group arrived yesterday in Thailand ahead of a visit by the organisation's leader who is to assess ongoing violence in the kingdom's Muslim-majority south.
Thailand in March invited Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) head Akmal al-Din Oghali to visit as the government seeks to temper criticism from the Muslim world over its crackdown on Islamic insurgents.
More than 680 people have been killed in Thailand's southernmost provinces since a separatist insurgency broke out in January last year.
The government's tough response has strained relations with several Muslim countries.
The advance team, led by former OIC assistant secretary-general Sayed Gasim Almasri, begin their 11-day mission yesterday with a meeting with Thailand's Muslim spiritual leader Sawas Sumalsak, known as the Chularajamontri.
“Their main function is to meet and consult with the Muslim community in Thailand and prepare for the visit by the OIC secretary-general, which we have to discuss further to confirm the timing,” a Thai Foreign Ministry official said.
Today they will visit the troubled provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, and travel next week to the central province of Ayutthaya to meet with Muslims there.
Top Asian terror suspect Hambali, alleged by Indonesian police to be a key member of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah extremist network, was arrested in Ayutthaya in 2003, triggering concern that Islamic extremists were hiding in Thailand.
Next week the OIC delegates will meet with Foreign Ministry officials and visit parliament, an Islamic bank and the northern city of Chiang Mai.
In March a Thai delegation travelled to the OIC headquarters in Jeddah to explain the findings of investigations into two bloody and controversial clashes last year between security forces and militants and protesters.
The army has removed three generals from their command posts in the south and transferred them to advisory positions over one of the incidents, the October 25 crackdown on protesters that left 87 dead, including 78 who died in custody.
On April 28 Thai security forces stormed a historic Pattani mosque where 32 rebels were killed. – AFP
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