Bangkok – The shadowy separatist movement in Thailand's deep South is trying to emulate the tactics of Indonesia's Free Aceh Movement (GAM), said army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin. And in remarks that may raise eyebrows among Thailand's neighbours, the general was also quoted as saying that the violence in the South is linked to the battle for control over the Strait of Malacca.
Gen Sonthi said the separatist movement is a reorganisation of old separatist groups, including the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo) and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).
"The movement has adopted new strategies. Insurgency groups under it are conducting violent attacks but do not reveal the movement's identity or its leader. There is still much for us to find out."
Gen Sonthi said it would take a long time before the movement declared itself or revealed its leader – in a similar fashion to the way GAM had operated.
''I want them to reveal their identities and tell us if they want to talk,'' he said.
Earlier, security sources said the separatist movement is made up of a group of religious teachers or ustaz, Islamic boarding school students and Muslim graduates aged 30-50 from overseas universities. It had former core members of old separatist groups acting as advisers.
"The strength of the separatist movement is less than 1 per cent of the 1.3 million Muslim people in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces where the majority do not support it. So, the insurgents have tried to create conditions to draw the people to support the movement,'' Gen Sonthi said.
To Gen Sonthi, the violence in the South is linked to the battle for resources and control over the Strait of Malacca involving many countries in the region, but he declined to name them.
The new army chief told reporters they should be aware that the insurgents wanted their activities and attacks published and broadcast in the media worldwide to internationalise the issue.
"I know you have to report facts, but reports can be made in a way not to be a tool for the insurgents,'' Gen Sonthi said.
* Army has no clue of militants' leadership (Bangkok Post, Oct 22)