Chalerm picks advisory group 'tied to rebels'

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung has appointed nine members of the Wadah group as his advisers on the deep South.

  • Published: 19/02/2013 at 05:29 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

The move has been criticised as some members of the group have been linked to insurgents in the region.

The advisers, appointed Tuesday by Mr Chalerm, are group leader Den Tomeena, Wan Muhamad Nor Matha Wan, Areepen Uttarasin, Sukarno Matha, Najmuddin Uma, Phetdao Tomeena, Abdulrohman Absulsamad, Suthipan Sririkanont and Sudin Phuyutthanont.

Most are well known in political circles and several have been cabinet ministers and members of parliament.

The Wadah group comprises influential Muslim politicians from several political parties. It once dominated seats in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.

Mr Chalerm said he appointed the Wadah members as his advisers because they are Muslims who are well aware of the problems plaguing the predominantly Islamic southernmost provinces and are respected by residents, Mr Chalerm said.

If their opinions prove useful, they will also be asked to attend a meeting of the Centre for Implementation of Policies and Strategies for Solving Problems in Southern Border Provinces.

Mr Chalerm expects to hold a meeting with the centre next week.

The decision has raised some eyebrows as some of the group's members are accused of supporting insurgents in the far South.

Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn warned Mr Chalerm to be careful about security leaks now that he has appointed Wadah members as advisers.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Tuesday distanced her government from the move. "The appointment is Mr Chalerm's personal decision, and it does not involve the government," she said.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said Mr Chalerm had thought carefully before deciding to appoint the advisers.

The deputy prime minister needs the help of those who are knowledgeable on the problems of the South, he said.

Wadah member Mr Najmuddin said he is ready to provide information and offer his opinions on the insurgency.

He stressed the need for the government to solve the unrest through peaceful dialogue.

He said the invocation of the Internal Security Act to replace the emergency decree in the area is a step in the right direction.

The emergency decree worries locals as it gives authorities too much power, he said.

Mr Najmuddin said the ruling Pheu Thai Party has no representation in the far South, which makes it difficult for the government to work with local authorities.

The party needs representatives from the region to liaise with local people to solve the problem, he said.

Democrat Party deputy leader Thaworn Senneam Tuesday said the Wadah group has close ties with locals in the far South, and while this could benefit Mr Chalerm's efforts in the region, it could also pose problems.

Meanwhile, in Yala, eight soldiers were injured in a grenade attack.

Authorities say two suspected insurgents drove a motorcycle past Wat Lak 5 at 6pm as soldiers of the Yala Task Force 11 were engaged in physical training, and tossed an M26 grenade at the troops.

Pol Col Pacharaphol na Nakhon, chief of the Muang district police station, said the explosion wounded eight soldiers.

Security cameras recorded the attack and a manhunt has commenced, he said.

By Online Reporters

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha welcomed the appointment Tuesday of nine members of the Wadah political group as advisers to Deputy Prime Minister and security chief Chalerm Yubamrung.

The nine Wadah group members could have deep understanding of the problems in the southernmost provinces, said Gen Prayuth, and could help to come up with suggestions for solutions against the violence there.

Mr Chalerm will be taking advice from Wadah members Wan Muhammad Nor Matha, Den Tomeena, Areepen Uttarasin, Sukarno Matha, Najmuddin Umar, Phetdao Tomeena, Abdulrohman Absulsamad, Suthipan Sriwikanont and Sudin Phuyuthanont. Most are well known in political circles, and several have been cabinet ministers and members of parliament.

Under an order from the Prime Minister's Office issued Tuesday, they will be responsible for giving advice, opinion, analyses and suggestions on problems in the deep South, under Mr Chalerm.

One of the group, Najmuddin Umar, was once charged with separatism and rebellion. Gen Prayuth said he trusted the government to think carefully about choosing advisers from diverse backgrounds and knowledgeable about the separatist movement in the South.

Mr Najmuddin was once a Narathiwat MP under the banner of the New Aspiration Party for ex-premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

The appointment of Muslim advisers should not affect government efforts in the South, and the military has no objection, Gen Prayuth said.

Gen Thanasak Patimaprakorn, the supreme commander, said the armed forces are duty-bound and ready to support the government in its efforts to solve the problems, including the move announced on Monday to replace the emergency decree with the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Mr Najmuddin said Tuesday the government was on the right track by replacing the emergency decree with the ISA. The emergency decree had caused tension among the population, because authorities sometimes abused their power, he said.

He said the ruling Pheu Thai Party had limitations in working to solve the problems in the South, because it has no MPs from the region, a traditional stronghold of the opposition Democrat Party.

This political weakness caused poor coordination between the government and the local people.  If Pheu Thai had MPs from the South, this problem would be solved, Mr Najmuddin said.

The former MP said under the emergency decree, cases against militants could be dismissed under the condition that they surrendered under a warrant issued under this law.  However, cases would not be dismissed for those held on criminal offences.

Under Article 21 of the ISA, cases against those wanted for criminal offences could be dismissed if they surrendered to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) or the 4th Army command within six months.

The government had previousy invoked the ISA in Chana, Thepha, Nathawi and Sabayoi districts of Songkhla and Mae Lan district of Pattani.

Mr Najmuddin said the emergency decree imposed in Waeng and Sukhirin of Narathiwat and Betong, Thanto and Kabang districts of Yala should be lifted because during the past year there were very few security-related incidents in these localities.

However, in areas where violent incidents were still rampant such as Bacho and Cho Airong districts of Narathiwat the emergency decree could remain in place, he added.

Mr Najmuddin said this was the first time in several decades he had heard a government state it was ready to hold negotiations, and he fully agreed to this stance.

He said his first advice is for the government to hold talks with anyone with different opinions who clearly shows the intention of serious dialogue.

The former MP disagreed with the rotation of troops from other regions to operate in the three southernmost provinces, adding that it would be better if the soldiers are recruited from within the troubled areas.

Security operations continued on Tuesday, amidst new attacks by militants. In Narathiwat's Rueso district, a 60-strong combined police and military force descended on a house before dawn and arrested two suspects named in warrants issued for bombings and arson.

The house at Ban Muelae in tambon Sawo was reported to be a hideout of a group of RKK militants led by Repae-ing Useng who took part in an attack on a marine base at Ban Yuelo in Bacho district on Feb 13 in which 16 militants were killed.

As the authorities approached the house three men fled into the forest.

Two others remained behind and surrendered.

The first man was identified as Isueman Jehama, 28.  He is wanted on warrants for a bombing in Rueso district on Sept 12, 2008 in which eight policemen were injured and another security related incident. He is also believed to be one of the insurgents who attacked a marine oupost on the morning of Feb 13.

The other man is Ali Baka, 25.  A warrant was issued earlier for his arrest for setting fire to Ban Muelae School in Rueso district on March 21, 2007.

A search of the house found one 9mm pistol with 26 rounds of ammunition and four mobile phones.

The two suspects were taken to the Narathiwat Task Force 30 operations base for questioning.

Violence continued in the region. An assistant village headman was killed in a drive-by shooting in Pattani’s Khok Pho district on Tuesday morning, police said.

Somsak Surasith, 44, assistant village chief of Moo 4 in tambon Khok Pho, was travelling on his motorcycle on the rural road at Moo 3, tambon Pa Bon of Khok Pho when a gunman riding pillion on another motorcycle fired at him with handgun, said Pol Col Suchart Assawachinda, chief of Khok Pho police station.

Somsak took bullets in the head and torso and died on the spot. Pol Col Suchart blamed separatist militants.

In Khok Pho, a school teacher was shot and seriously wounded late Monday night.

Police said 56-year-old Saman E-so was returning home in a pick-up truck when a group of men in another pick-up opened fire at his vehicle. Mr Saman was admitted to Pattani Hospital. Doctors said he was out of danger by Tuesday.

Early Tuesday morning, a former paramilitary ranger was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Yala’s Yaha district.

Police said Marase Saekaela, 28, a resident of Moo 5, tambon Patae of Yaha district, was travelling on his motorcycle on  a rural road in his village when he was shot by a gunman on another motorcycle. The attackers then fled.

Marase was hit in his right shoulder and taken to Yaha hospital.

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