Bangkok – Firm but conciliatory. That is the essence of the Thai government’s new approach towards solving the long-running insurgency in the deep South. While it has set up a reconciliation panel to engage Thai-Muslims in the peace process, the government has also revamped the security set-up in the region, which effectively puts the Thai Army in charge.
The new policy has been welcomed by those who believe that the troubled South needs a more coordinated and unified strategy, reported Singapore’s The Straits Times. It is aimed at achieving better control of daily law and order while the National Reconciliation Commission, headed by former premier Anand Panyarachun, handles political strategy.
"The South was wide open. They (the militants) could do anything they liked," security specialist Professor Panitan Wattanayagorn told the newspaper. "It is accepted that there should be a new command under military-civilian authority, with fewer uniformed people running it. But you can’t move forward if you cannot guarantee law and order," said the academic who teaches at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Fourth Army commander General Kwanchart Klaharn is now the new head of the Southern Border Provinces Peace Building Command, making the Army wholly responsible for the South’s security. The local police chiefs – who used to have greater autonomy – now report to Gen Kwanchart, who has a reputation as a good tactician.
Frontline officers hope the change would allow for a better response to a renewed and coordinated series of daily arson, bomb and shooting attacks.
"Now police instead of soldiers will man road checkpoints, which will free up more of my men for rapid mobile missions," a senior military commander in the South told The Straits Times.
For the new carrot-and-stick strategy to work, there is a need to keep the lines of communication between Gen Kwanchart and Mr Anand open, said Prof Panitan. If the commission is left in the dark by the military, it will lose credibility, he added.
* Bangkok puts faith in raising voices of reason (The Straits Times, June 18)