BANGKOK — We may soon see a great wall along our southern border, and we will make Malaysia pay for it. Or at least a portion of it.
The plan to erect a Thai-Malaysian border fence was unveiled Friday by Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who said he got the idea from a recent meeting in Laos with his Malaysian counterparts.
“We recommended setting up a joint committee with Malaysia for discussions of issues scuh as problems about transnational crime, human trafficking and a border fence,” Gen. Prawit told reporters at Government House.
The general, who also serves as deputy junta chairman, said the fence project would be jointly funded by Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
Thailand’s southern border region is known for various security issues such as human trafficking networks, smuggling rings and a separatist insurgency that has claimed at least 6,500 lives in the last 12 years.
Elaborating on Prawit’s remark, defense spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said the idea of a joint border fence would build upon existing structures. There are already fences and walls along the border, but they were built separately by the two nations, leaving a no man’s land in between, and the governments would prefer a single fence managed by both sides, Maj. Kongcheep said by telephone.
The two governments also want to extend the existing fence to cover the rest of the border, portions of which pass through undemarcated jungles and mountains, the spokesman said.
“We want to extend the line. Both sides agreed on this. In the area that is clearly defined, we can build it,” Maj. Kongcheep said. “For areas that are still not clear, we will rely on patrols, and we will send teams to demarcate it first. Then we will build it when things are certain.”
The idea is not new. As early as 2013, the counterinsurgency agency Internal Security Operations Command submitted a proposal to the central government for a fortified border defense, which would have included a 6.5-kilometer concrete wall topped with barbed wire. The project never took off.
Gen. Prawit reportedly discussed the latest plan with the Malaysian defense minister during an informal meeting that took place on Wednesday and Thursday in Vientiane.
A timeframe for building the barrier and its costs pend further discussion between both governments, Kongcheep said.
“We have a joint committee working on it together because it involves the border. It may affect the demarcation line, so we have to be cautious,” he said.