Troops in southern Thailand get new commander, yet again

Updated On: Dec 09, 2005

Bangkok – In a move that has raised some eyebrows but officially described as part on an "ongoing restructuring", Lt-Gen Kwanchart Klaharn, the Fourth Army commander who oversees troops stationed in southern Thailand, has been transferred to a new post after just one year on the job. This is the fifth time in two years that the post has changed hands.

      His deputy, Maj-Gen Ongkorn Thongphasom, will take over as Fourth Army commander, who also doubles up as the director of the multi-agency Southern Border Provinces Peacebuilding Command, which handles security issues in the restive region.
      Army commander General Sondhi Boonyaratglin said the change was part of an "ongoing restructuring" in the area of "tactical operations" in the region.  
      "I want to change the Fourth Army's operational tactics, particularly in the three southern border provinces," he said. "New tactics involve using small military units. We have to combine various forms of combat operations to be successful." 
      Army sources said the transfer was part of Gen Sondhi's plan to fill key positions in the Fourth Army with officers from Special Forces, such as Maj-Gen Ongkorn. A special warfare soldier based for many years along the Thai-Myanmar border, he is seen as a hawkish officer, similar to Gen Sonthi.  
      Other Army sources said Lt-Gen Kwanchart, who will become an adviser to the office of the Defence Permanent Secretary, had also upset Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra because of his slow progress in ending the violence in the South. 
      Some southern Muslim leaders in the region said they did not understand why Lt-Gen Kwanchart had to be replaced. Mr Nimu Makaje, a former deputy chairman of the Islamic Committee of Yala, said Lt-Gen Kwanchart was a good officer who had a good understanding of local Muslims. 
      "The situation (in the deep South) has improved a lot, partly because of Lt-Gen Kwanchart's strategy and public relations work. The way he took youth or suspected militants to give interviews on television was effective in telling people about problems here," Mr Nimu said.
      Mr Nimanase Sama-ali, chairman of the Muslim Youth Association of Thailand, said he thought the move had nothing to do with the situation in the South, but everything to do with the lack of clear policy. "I think the problem is now with the government that does not have a clear policy, causing confusion among authorities at the operational level," he said. 
      In another development, Malaysian police have quietly handed over to their Thai counterparts one of the most-wanted men in the insurgency in southernThailand
      Suspected insurgent Manase Jeloh, who is said to be linked to the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), has a three-million-baht reward on his head. 
      Manase, 35, was handed over to Thailand's Deputy National Chief, General Priewphan Damapong, on Dec 6 and is being kept at an undisclosed location for further interrogation. Thai police have yet to confirm his arrest. 
      Manase, who lived in Pattani, is believed to have undergone about four years of training in Libya. Police suspect him of involvement in several attacks in the deep South, including planting bombs on several occasions.

* Army change 'not a problem' (The Nation, Dec 8)

* Smaller units, combat operations combined (Bangkok Post, Dec 8)

* M'sia police hand over top suspect (The Nation, Dec 8)

* Malaysia hands over B3m-bounty Pulo suspect (Bangkok Post, Dec 8)