Bangkok – The shadowy militants warn Thais in the deep South not to work or open their business on Thursdays or Fridays - on the pain of punishment and mutilation. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra tells residents to proceed with business as usual – with the assurance that they will be protected. Whose words will fearful Thais in the deep South heed?
As the climate of fear deepens in the three southernmost provinces over the militants' latest threat, Mr Thaksin paid a surprise visit to the region at the weekend in an effort to boost morale among residents there.
After meeting Muslim and Buddhist community and religious leaders, as well as local officials in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, the Prime Minister announced three measures to restore confidence and stimulate economy in the deep South.
The first measure – in response to the militants' stop-work order on Thursdays and Fridays - will involve getting producers and traders across the country to bring their goods to the three provinces to sell at 10 special markets on Fridays. As a start, producers and traders from Bangkok will head south to open markets selling cheap consumer goods on Friday, Aug 19. Friday is the Muslim day of prayer and an official holiday in many Islamic countries.
"Please do not be afraid, especially of threats against working and running businesses on Thursdays and Fridays," Mr Thaksin said in Pattani on Aug 13.
In Narathiwat a day later, he urged residents not to give in to the militants' threat because it would only strengthen them.
"Stop the fear and rise against them. Officials will help you bring the bad guys down, I believe you all know they are not big in numbers…not more than 15 in each village," Mr Thaksin said.
A government spokesman later said that security agencies would protect those who opened for business on these days.
The other two measures relate to the transportation of agricultural produce from the three southern provinces to Bangkok and other big cities, and the extension of a low-interest loan period for businesses in the region.
Despite the Prime Minister's assurances that he is giving the deep South his utmost personal attention, it will not be easy to overcome the fear factor.
"It is psychological … The militants do not even have to kill anyone now to spread this kind of fear. And the people have no faith in the security forces anyway," a Pattani trader who did not want to be named told Singapore's The Straits Times.
* Thaksin readies gentler solutions (The Nation, Aug 15)
* Govt orders opening of Friday markets (Bangkok Post, Aug 15)
* Don't fear militants' threats, Thaksin says on visit to south (The Straits Times, Aug 15)