Bangkok- The Thai army has moved three battalions from the Thai-Cambodian border in Prachin Burito the three southernmost provinces - raising the number of troops there to almost 20,000 or 18 battalions.
The troops' mission in the districts of Betong (Yala), Sukhirin (Narathiwat) and Muang (Pattani) is two-fold: To promote community relations and wage a psychological war to win the hearts and minds of the villagers.
"This is the firsttime soldiers from Prachin Buri has been deployed in the three southern border provinces. They would focus on ending misunderstandings between Thai Buddhists and Thai Muslims and try to convince villagers not to support the instigators of unrest in the region and the separatist groups," said Colonel Thirachai Nakvanich, commander of the 2nd Infantry Regiment Royal Guard.
He added that villagers are now less suspicious of the military after nearly a month of door-to-door community relations campaigns and activities, such asthe renovation of Buddhist temples and meetings with local Muslim leaders.
However, a commentary in The Nation said sending more troops to the South to fight a war that is highly political is not the solution. It quoted a security analyst as saying that the government’s challenge in 2005 is to come to come up with "positive measures"to win the trust of the southern Thais.
* More soldiers sent to deep South (Bangkok Post, Feb 1)
* The south could do without more troops (The Nation, Jan 25)