Yingluck promises peace in restive South

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra promised to do her best to restore peace in the southernmost provinces, and to end insurgent violence with fearful teachers now a major target, during meetings in Pattani on Thursday.

Ms Yingluck told members of the Women's Development Fund in Pattani province that she would do her best to end the violence, but said she could not achieve that goal without help from all groups in the region.

The prime minister's one-day visit came as teachers in Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and parts of Songkhla province once again closed classrooms at all state schools, saying that despite promises of improved safety measures they still fear for their lives after even more of their colleagues were murdered recently.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra walks on her way to a meeting with teachers during her visit to Pattani province on Thursday. (AFP Photo)

Her promise was echoed by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who remained in Bangkok.

He said that local leaders in the South will be given a bigger role in helping combat the insurgency in the southernmost border provinces, because they are the local state authority and understand the problems well.

Mr Chalerm is director of the operations centre for implementation of policies and strategies for solving problems in southern border provinces.

He admitted to being heavy-hearted at being given the assignment.

Mr Chalerm said that previously the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre was responsible for development, and the Internal Security Operations Command for security.

Most of the soldiers operating in the troubled areas were from other regions and the size of the force had dwindled. This problem should be solved, he said.

Mr Chalerm said he would give local leaders, be they kamnan (tambon chiefs) or village chiefs (phuyaiban), a bigger role in coping with the problems, as they know the area better than other people.

Local leaders could be of much help, including in the field of intelligence gathering, he said, adding that he would consult with provincial governors on this matter.

Mr Chalerm said he would also seek help from other people well-versed in the situation in the South. They included former deputy interior minister Thaworn Senneam of the Democrat Party, former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, Den Tomeena, Wan Muhamad Nor Matha, Areepen Uttarasin, and Aziz Pitakkhumpol, who is the Chularatchamontri or leader of Thai Muslims.

The operation centre he chairs would assess its work every six months, Mr Chalerm said.

As the government promised a better future for people in the deep South, frightened teachers again expressed their frustration.

Boonsom Tongsriprai, chairman of the Confederation of Teachers in the Southern Border Provinces, said after meeting with the prime minister that southern teachers were satisfied with a promise by Ms Yingluck to have better measures and incentives for them.

A committee comprising the education minister, Southern Border Provinces Adminstration Centre and Internal Security Operations Command will be set up to map out new plans to protect the lives of teachers in the provinces, Mr Boonsom added.

He renewed calls for measures to stop the flood of teachers who are Buddhists requesting transfers out of the predominantly Muslim southern border provinces.

Since 2003, 6,176 teachers had requested a transfer out of the region, however only 1,842 of them had been approved, he said.

Buddhist teachers no longer wanted to go to work after leaflets distributed by insurgents threatened to kill more of them, he added.

About 1,200 schools in Narathiwat closed on Thursday and Friday in protest against lack of effective safety measures to protect them from militants. About 20 schools in Narathiwat's six districts decided to open regardless, amid tight security from soldiers and police.

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