Bangkok - In a bid to boost security among those living in Thailand's deep South, the authorities plan to train and arm some 20,000 residents in the three provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani. Apart from self-defence, they will also be trained to spy on the movements of insurgents in the restive region, said Commander General Ruangroj Mahasaranond.
The project, under the supervision of the Supreme Command, will begin in December and is a combination of security training and job creation for residents who will be trained to develop weapons and spying skills.
The Southern Border Provinces Peace-Building Command - which is responsible for security in the region - will recruit qualified males and females for the project and put them on the government's payroll.
Thousands of residents in the deep South have already been trained and armed as defence volunteers to protect their property.
However, Gen Ruangroj said these volunteers were not adequately trained in the past, making them incapable of providing sufficient security to their communities. Militants have also stolen hundreds of the volunteers' weapons in several attacks in recent months.
Gen Ruangroj said the project would offer better instruction and would include ongoing training after the course.
As violence continues unabated in the deep South, Interior Minister Kongsak Wantana said the insurgents were getting financial support from drug traffickers. Investigations showed that a drug gang in Narathiwat had provided money to the insurgents to carry out terrorist attacks in the South.
"We will simultaneously launch a war on drug traffickers, influential figures and separatists. Suppression operations against drug gangs must be continuous and in all regions from the North to the South, since the southern region is a key transit route for drugs,'' he added.
One of the government's strategies to solve the southern problem is to target gangs demanding protection fees, drug traffickers and influential figures.
A team of security officers, chaired by national intelligence chief Police-General Jumpol Manmai, will be set up to work closely with the Department of Special Investigation, the Anti-Money Laundering Office, the National Counter Corruption Commission, the Royal Thai Police Office and the Revenue Department.
* Traffickers 'financing separatists' (Bangkok Post, Nov 15)
* Villagers to get weapons training (The Nation, Nov 15)