Bangkok - Some three months after its proposal to set up "red zones" was shot down, the Thai government has come up with another zoning plan but of a less controversial nature. As part of its confidence-building measures in the deep South, the government will be setting up "peace zones" by deploying armed forces in certain districts to contain the violence.
A pilot scheme will begin in Betong district in Yala province in August with soldiers and development volunteers deployed to protect and develop the district, said Defence Minister Thamarak Isarangura.
"We will begin with Betong because there is less violence in the district and volunteers will be able to control the situation," he said.
The authorities will gradually add other, less violent, areas to the project and encourage local residents to cooperate with officials to install peace in the predominantly Muslim region, where more than 800 people have been killed since the beginning of last year. The government believes Islamic separatists are behind the daily violence.
"The peace zones are areas we can fully control, so if anyone causes trouble in those areas we can simply get rid of them," Mr Thamarak said.
The plan to set up the zones was discussed during a meeting of the various security agencies in charge of the South on Jan 20.
In March, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra drew fire all around when he announced plans to designate 358 of the 1,580 southern villages as "red zones", areas that would not receive government aid because they were seen as sympathetic to the insurgents. The huge outcry caused him to abandon the plan.
* Peace zones declared in deep South (The Nation, June 21)