Malaysia to improve education and employment opportunities in southern Thailand

Malaysia will help improve education and employment opportunities in insurgency-plagued southern Thailand.

Malaysia is concerned that continuing violence across its border in southern Thailand could destabilize the region. On Thursday, three Muslim men were fatally shot, and three soldiers were injured by a bomb blast blamed by police on Muslim insurgents.

In a meeting in Bangkok, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar and Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont agreed that Malaysia will sponsor 4,000 students from Thailand's south to receive vocational training in Malaysia as part of a program to help improve education in the area, Thai government spokesman Yongyuth Maiyalarb said.

He said the two governments will also work together to boost employment opportunities and the economy in Thailand's southernmost provinces, which are among the country's poorest.

Many Malaysians share the religion and Malay ethnicity of southern Thai Muslims.

On Thursday, the bodies of two Muslims, ages 16 and 20, were found on a bridge in southern Yala province, said police Maj. Prasom Luangphun. Both were shot in the head.

He said an initial police investigation put the blame on insurgents.

While the insurgents frequently attack Buddhists, Muslims have also been targeted because of perceived links to the government.

In Songkhla province, Adul Benyareh, a 51-year-old Muslim working as a government-hired security volunteer, was fatally shot while riding a motorcycle home in Saba Yoi district, said police Sub. Lt. Sayan Thongsuwan.

A bomb wounded three soldiers patrolling a road in Pattani province, said police Lt. Sompob Laungwong.

More than 2,300 people have died, mostly in drive-by shootings and bombings, since the insurgency flared in 2004 in Thailand's Muslim-dominated far south.

Southern Muslims have long complained of discrimination, especially in jobs and education, in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.