On January 26 came official confirmation from Malaysia that Thailand’s most-wanted Islamist terror suspect, Abdul Rahman Ahmad, known in Thailand both as Doramae Kuteh and Chae Kumae Kuteh, had been arrested. He is considered to be the leader of the New Pulo separatist group and the mastermind behind the raids on a Thai arms depots in January 2004 – which kicked off the present round of Islamist agitation in Thailand causing 570 fatalities to date. He had a bounty of five million baht (about USD 130,000) on his head.
However there are problems associated with his arrest. As the Thai daily The Nation underlined, the diplomatic atmosphere between the two countries was clouded last month when Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, complained that Muslim separatists had found refuge in Malaysia, where they were freely carrying out training activities in the jungle areas in the zones bordering the troubled Thai provinces. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has refused to extradite him, saying that the suspect is a Malaysian citizen. Malaysia has no extradition treaty with Thailand (www.nationmultimedia.com).
Diplomatic row notwithstanding, the arrest of Kuteh will add a dose of clarity to the issue of cross-border activism which Malaysian authorities have left opaque. The nabbing of a separatist mastermind in Malaysia proves Thailand’s point. Kuteh’s removal from the scene is also a coup for Thailand, which is about to increase the pressure on the separatists in the run-up to the February 6 elections. A wanted list of over 90 core members of the insurgency has been drawn up in a time of increased tension, since the arrest in early January of six prominent Muslim religious leaders on charges of treason and illegal possession of firearms.