The government is talking up its record in tackling the southern violence, as the ninth anniversary passed yesterday of a deadly raid on a military barracks which set off the latest wave of attacks.
Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat yesterday insisted the government was on the right track in its fight to contain the southern violence.
"I'm sure we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. In a short time from now, the southern situation will improve significantly," he said, marking the ninth anniversary of the arms robbery in Cho Airong district, Narathiwat, on Jan 4, 2004. The weapons robbery in which 413 guns were stolen and four soldiers killed took place at the 4th Development Battalion and marked the start of a new phase of southern violence. Nine years later, 94 of the stolen guns have been retrieved from a series of arrests of suspected insurgents who were found to have used the weapons in subsequent attacks.
The minister declined to say whether the government would consider negotiating with the insurgent groups as a way of ending the unrest, saying he would try every channel to make the situation improve as fast as possible.
Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said the army was now in the second phase of its efforts to bring an end to the unrest in which the goal was simply to bring down the number of attacks in the far South.
It remained impossible to say when this phase, which started in 2011, would end.
In the third phase, more local security forces such as local police and defence volunteers would be included in the main security forces comprising soldiers operating in the area.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said he plans to visit Malaysia on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the southern unrest issue with Malaysian officials.
The Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) director Pol Col Tawee Sodsong, National Security Council chief Lt Gen Paradon Patthanabut, and the governors of five southern border provinces would join him, Mr Chalerm said.
Asked whether he would also hold talks with insurgent leaders in Malaysia, he said he could not say anything about that for the time being.
However, Mr Chalerm said he was sure that if Thailand continued trying to solve the southern unrest alone, it would fail.
Police stations throughout Narathiwat were ordered on high alert for possible violence yesterday as authorities worried insurgents would try to mark the anniversary with new attacks.
Pol Maj Gen Wichai Kasemwong, chief of Narathiwat police, said he had instructed the chiefs of the 19 police stations in all 13 districts of the province to set up extra security checkpoints on the roads. A total of 11 suspects have been identified for the 2004 arms robbery but only two have been arrested, he said. The suspects were Mazukee Zeng and Za-ezoon Abduroha.
Vehicles running past the checkpoints were checked and their passengers and drivers screened against the list of southern violence suspects who are now wanted by police over past attacks.
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Writer: Wassana Nanuam and Pradit Ruangdit