Bangkok - The controversial emergency decree for Thailand's deep South has been extended for another three months. The renewal by the Cabinet came even as its critics insist that the law has done little to pacify the troubled region and Thai army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin admits that the authorities are still groping in the dark for solutions.
"The government has no choice but to extend the state of emergency," said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Oct 18.
The emergency law permits the government to declare a state of emergency that is renewable every three months. The decree, which was first implemented on July 20, gives officials the power to impose curfews, ban public gatherings, limit travel, censor newspapers, ban publications, hold suspects without charge for 30 days, confiscate property, and wiretap telephones.
Mr Thaksin noted that even entrenched liberal democracies such as the US and Britain, in their war on terrorism, permit suspects to be detained up to three and six months, respectively.
"So let's not be more Catholic than the Pope," Mr Thaksin quipped.
Critics have said that the law will only succeed in further alienating members of the Malay-Muslim majority.
"The emergency law is only making local Muslims more wary of government officials because they feel the law gives authorities a licence to murder them with impunity," said Senator Thongbai Thongbao, a prominent human rights advocate.
Narathiwat Senator Umar Thoyib noted that even with the emergency decree in effect for the past three months, violence in the region has continued unabated.
"The state of emergency has not only failed to contain violence but has created even more grievances in the local Muslim community," Mr Umar said.
In another development, Gen Sonthi, the newly-appointed army chief, said problems in the South remain unsolved because the tactics used to deal with them are not right.
"We have to continue looking for better ways to deal with them. We are now like a blind man groping an elephant and giving different descriptions of it. A right solution has yet to be found," Gen Sonthi, the first Muslim to be appointed to such a high military post, said.
"As we know, they (the separatists) want to split from our land. And since they are not able to do this through use of force, they have sought assistance from external sources in the same way the Aceh separatists in Indonesia did,'' Gen Sonthi said.
"But if people of all religions join hands to oppose these outside forces, they will stop interfering in our internal affairs.''
* Emergency decree gets extended (The Nation, Oct 19)
* Sonthi: Authorities still in dark (Bangkok Post, Oct 19)