Bangkok – While Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra clings tenaciously to the official line that the bloody insurgency in southern Thailand is a strictly homegrown affair, his own security adviser now says that Indonesian fighters are involved in the insurgency.
"I have warned the authorities concerned several times about Indonesian fighters sneaking into the region, but they have ignored it," the Associated Press quoted General Kitti Rattanachaya, a former commander in the restive region, as saying. The militants had entered Thailand from the Indonesian province of Aceh, he added.
Gen Kitti said Thai officials "do not accept the truth that we are facing the problem of separatist insurgents supported by fellow Muslims in the region".
In Indonesia, police Major-General Ansyaad Mbai, head of the terrorism desk at the Ministry for Political and Security Affairs, told the news agency that it "was possible" that one or two Indonesian militants were in southern Thailand, but he had seen no formal reports on the matter.
Many analysts still regard the insurgency as domestic but with a strong potential to attract Muslim militants including members of the Jemaah Islamiah, the Al-Qaeda-linked regional terrorist network.
As the Thai government gropes around for a policy that will turn the tide of the increasingly violent insurgency in its favour, newly-appointed army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said he would adopt a divide-and-rule strategy to weaken the militants.
Under the plan, steps will be taken to drive "the fish out of the river" by making the water muddy. Soldiers will be sent to patrol villages and befriend residents with the aim of pressuring the insurgents to emerge from their hideouts.
Gen Sonthi also hopes to "make the fish bite each other" by getting his officers to persuade suspected sympathisers of the rebels to stay away from insurgent activities. Even if the officers fail to make villagers change their minds, the move would at least create an atmosphere of mistrust between the insurgents and their supporters.
Gen Sonthi is banking on the new strategy to destablise the insurgents' structure. He believes that if the fundamental structure collapses, the top levels will eventually fall down.
"We must make people our allies and not let them go to our rivals. If they do, we will lose. We must draw back most residents to fight those who stage unrest in the region," said Gen Sonthi, who officially assumed the post of army chief on Oct 1. He is the first Muslim to be appointed to such a high post – raising hopes that he will be able to play a key role in restoring Thai-Muslims' trust in the government.
During a meeting with Gen Sonthi and other top security officials on Oct 1, Prime Minister Thaksin ordered them to increase efficiency by working together to develop a new strategy to quell the unrest.
Mr Thaksin told reporters that ground operations in the deep South would be intensified and added that "things will improve from today".
However, he warned that the government would extend a controversial law in the Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani if the situation did not improve. The emergency law can be renewed every three months with Cabinet approval.
* PM tells top brass to map new plan to curb violence (The Nation, Oct 2)
* Divide and rule strategy pushed (Bangkok Post, Oct 1)
* Indonesian fighters in Thai south, says Thaksin's security aide (The Straits Times, Sept 30)