PATTANI, (Thailand), Oct 7 (AFP): Thailand began issuing fingerprint-embedded "smart" ID cards to 1.2 million residents of its Muslim-majority provinces Friday, in the first step toward ending dual citizenship with Malaysia.
Once the cards are issued, Thailand hopes Malaysia will share information about its citizens, so that Bangkok can determine which people are claiming dual citizenship and force Thai Muslims to choose one nationality.
"Malaysia will cooperate. They don't want to have people with dual citizenship either," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said as the first new identity cards were issued.
The prime minister wants the 1.2 million people aged 15 to 70 -- out of a total population of 2.2 million in the country's three mainly Muslim provinces -- to receive the new cards by November.
Thaksin has pushed the long-delayed proposal to issue smart ID cards -- bogged down for more than a year by technical problems and privacy concerns -- as a way to curb the violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces, where more than 960 people have been killed since January 2004.
His government believes militants are abusing dual citizenship to escape across Thailand's border with Malaysia after committing attacks.
The cards, which eventually will be issued to all of Thailand's 63 million people, contain a chip that holds basic biodata about its holder -- information such as name, ID number, address and a digital scan of both thumbprints.
"The smart cards will enable authorities to quickly verify a person's identity. With the old ID cards, that was a bit difficult because they were easy to counterfeit," Interior Minister Kongsak Vantana told reporters Friday.
Eventually the cards could contain medical data, social security benefits information, a list of family members, an iris scan and educational background, interior ministry official Charnvit Vasayangkul told AFP.