Bangkok - The brutal killings of the two marines have thrown into sharp relief the incompetence of Thai security forces, said The Nation in an editorial. "It was shameful the way the army appeased all of the hostage-takers' demands, including flying in Malaysian journalists to cover the hostage-taking drama, and then to find themselves without a backup plan when worse came to worse."
"How can the armed forces ever convince their soldiers to put their lives on the line, if they make it a policy to abandon them to the mercy of the enemy, or a frenzied mob?", the newspaper said.
To restore law and order in the restive provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, the security agencies - the armed forces, police and intelligence units - must upgrade their operational efficiency, improve coordination and overhaul their intelligence-gathering capabilities to hunt down terrorists and insurgents.
"But before security agencies can even attempt to do all that, they must first shore up the flagging morale of their rank-and-file. Until enforcers of the law acquire the capability to protect their own personnel, don't expect people in the restive regin, particularly moderate peace-loving Muslims intimidated by insurgents' terror campaign to take them seriously."
In a separate analysis, The Nation said the incident "reflects a lack of decisive leadership and the degree of difficulty that state officials find themselves up against in this restive region, where the local communities have never really trusted government officials".
Referring to the villagers' demand to bring in the Malaysian journalists, the newspaper said: "The incident reflects the mindset of the local villagers, who are telling the world that they trust neither the Thai authorities nor the so-called independent Thai media."
But understanding local mentalities and attitudes towards the state is not the Thaksin's government's strongest suit.
"What has clearly been lacking these past two years is any attempt to second-guess local reactions towards government initiatives. Not only did the government fail to anticipate public reactions, they ignored even the need to think things through and come up with possible scenarios."
The Nation analysis says the battle in the South "is no longer an issue of geographical control, but rather one of mindsets - between the ethnic Malays of the deep South and the rest of the country."
"And if the insurgents have their way, the battle will evolve into Muslims versus non-Muslims."
* Southern murders reflect lack of effective leadership (The Nation, Sept 22)
* The horrific cost of incompetence (The Nation, Sept 22)