Backup plan needed instead of curfew

Despite the overnight attack on a military base in Narathiwat, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung faces an uphill battle to impose a night curfew in parts of the far South.

  • Published: 13/02/2013 at 11:27 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

The curfew imposed on Wednesday in four tambons of Narathiwat’s Bacho district and two tambons in Pattani’s Mai Kaen districts by the forward command of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) in the far South has nothing to do with Mr Chalerm's proposal for a limited curfew in parts of the troubled region.

The 24-hour curfew started at 6am and expires at 6am Thursday, unless extended. Its primary purpose is to enable security forces to hunt down fleeing insurgents who survived the disastrous attack on a marine base in Bacho district of Narathiwat early Wednesday morning.

The photo shows one of the 16 militants killed during the overnight attack on a military base in Narathiwat's Bacho district on Wednesday. (Photo Courtesy of the Royal Thai Army)

At least 16 bodies were found around the base perimeter, with more expected to be found as troops scoured the area. At least 18 assault rifles and handguns were found at the scene of the daring attack.

The attackers numbered about 80 altogether, the defending troops estimated. They were wearing military-type uniforms and bullet proof vests. It was the biggest attack since the armoury robbery on Jan 4, 2004, in which the insurgents escaped with more than 400 weapons, mostly M16 assault rifles, and which marked the start of the insurgency.

The successful defence of the marine base and the confirmed deaths of 16 of the attackers (and expectations the toll will mount) should provide a rare morale boost to the security forces which have recently found themselves sitting ducks for the emboldened insurgents.

No soldiers were killed in Wednesday morning's attack, although there were unconfirmed reports of some injuries.

However, on Sunday alone, five soldiers were killed in a combined bomb explosion and attack by gunmen on a road in Yala’s Raman district.

Despite today’s good news for the security forces, thanks to informants, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm still needs to present a strong case if he hopes to win support for his call for a night curfew in some areas in the far South. The curfew issue is due to be discussed at Friday's meeting of the government's ad hoc centre for solving problems in the far South, which Mr Chalerm heads.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

Although Mr Chalerm can count on the backing of Royal Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, who earlier voiced his support for a limited curfew, this it alone would not be enough to push through his proposal. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has given instructions that the opinions of the local people must be taken into consideration.

Isoc's forward command and the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre are in the process of mining the views of community and religious leaders about the proposed curfew.

But initial reactions from local leaders, and academics, were completely negative. It was pointed out that the curfew would inconvenience a great many people, especially rubber tappers who have to tend their trees as early as 4am, and people going to late night and early morning prayers.

It was also unlikely to be very effective as most of the violence occurs in broad daylight.

There is no question that a curfew has its merits too. It would restrict the movements and activities of insurgents during the night, when they dig holes in roads and plant bombs they later detonate during the day, but only if the troops are out on night patrol and not confined to camps for their own safety.

The disadvantages seem to outweigh the merits.

The vital information from local people that helped alert the marines in Bacho district in their successful defence of their base and defeat of the attackers, is the result of the trust building between the security forces and the locals. Such trust could be undermined if the local people are subjected to hardship or extreme inconvenience as a result of a curfew.

Both the 4th Army Region and the SBPAC cannot afford to let their attempts at trust-building with local Muslim communities, which are proceeding satisfactorily, be undermined by such a short-sighted measure as a curfew.

As a face-saving exercise for Mr Chalerm, the meeting on Friday may not arrive at any decision and the curfew issue could be deferred - probably indefinitely.

In the meantime, alternative measures must also be considered to save lives of members of the security forces, especially against bombs hidden along roads, in cars and motorcycles - against which, at this stage, there seems to be no defence.

About the author

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor

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