Narathiwat – The Thai military has hired motorcycle taxi drivers in Sungai Kolok, a tourist town in this southern border district, to act as its eyes and ears.
Over 1,000 drivers are being paid 4,500 baht a month as part of a “Stop the Bombing in Sungai Kolok” campaign organised by the 36th infantry task force. They will report on unusual and suspicious movements to identify insurgent activity in the town.
“The motorcycle taxi drivers already know restoring security is the duty of not only soldiers and police since every bomb also affects them and has caused their income to drop from 400 baht to only 100-200 baht a day,'' said Colonel Songwit Noonpakdi, the task force commander.
The colonel said the bombings had to stop in Sungai Kolok because it was a tourist town. Any more such attacks would damage the image of all the three southern border provinces.
In the past, bombs had been placed at entertainment venues and in crowded areas and had injured a number of people, including Malaysian tourists.
Col Songwit's unit is also seeking similar cooperation from the rest of the Sungai Kolok community. He said soldiers would meet locals daily to build up relationships and gather information.
Whether Col Songwit will succeed in getting the locals’help remains to be seen, given the deep mistrust that Thais in the deep south, in general, have of the Thaksin government.
While the rest ofThailandshowed their approval for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s populist policiesby voting for his party in huge numbers in the Feb 6 general elections, southern Thais expressed their disapproval by rejecting his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party.
The TRT won in only one out of 52 constituencies in the Muslim-majority south. It was probably the first time that Thai Muslims in the region had collectively used the parliamentary channels to express their dissatisfaction with the central government, an analyst told Bangkok Post.
In an editorial, The Nation said: “The fact that the southernmost Muslims dumped Thai Rak Thai so completely, warmly embracing the Democrats, sends a clear message to the Thaksin administration that its supposed ‘peace-making’ policies, characterised by the use of brute military force to quell unrest, are unacceptable.”
Mr Thaksin, however, indicated that there would be no change in his southern policies during his second term.
"We will adjust nothing. Now the people there do not believe us, but they will one day because what we have done is right. They may still believe in propaganda but we understand them,'' he said on Feb 9.
He also played down concerns that his plan to form a new 15th Infantry Division in the south would further sour public sentiment there, insisting it was necessary to have sufficient forces to safeguard the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
“The soldiers are there to protect innocent lives and, at the same time, make separatists know they will never let them take away that region from our country,'' Mr Thaksin said.
* Strong messages from the South (The Nation, Feb 8)
*Army hiring bikers as informers (Bangkok Post, Feb 8)
* PM: No change in handling of South (Bangkok Post, Feb 10)