Curfew, or not, in the far South?

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung appears to be at odds with Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat over whether or not a limited curfew should be imposed in certain parts of the restive deep South - and he certainly has his work cut if he hopes to push it through.

In his capacity as chief of the Centre to Implement Policy and Strategy to Resolve Problems in Southern Provinces - the man esentially in charge of security affairs in the far South - Mr Chalerm on Wednesday floated the idea of night curfew in Yaring district of Pattani and Krong Penang district of Yala.

He said the police there wanted a curfew to help curb the frequent violence in the two districts.

On Feb 1, two farmer trainers from Sing Buri were shot dead and 11 of their colleagues wounded when gunmen attacked their truck shortly after they left an abandoned rice field in Yaring district.

Four days afterward, four fruit merchants from the eastern seaboard province of Rayong, including a woman, were tied up and then shot dead in the early morning when gunmen raided their hut, only about 500 metres from a police station in Krong Penang district.

Mr Chalerm, when floating the idea, was quoted as saying: "We must have the courage to make the decision, to make changes. The situation cannot be allowed to persist, otherwise it will be like a drug-resistant disease."

But Defence Minister Sukumpol thought otherwise, saying he felt the overall situation was not so bad as to warrant even a limited curfew.

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat, left, and Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung (File photos)

In fact, ACM Sukumpol has a more limited role in the far South than Mr Chalerm, but he still has the right to voice his opinion - and he is the defence minister.

The 4th Army Region commander also chimed in, saying the two districts Mr Chalerm mentioned were not really major trouble spots and there were only isolated cases of insurgent violence there.

The curfew issue will be decided at a meeting of senior officers of the southern policy centre headed by Mr Chalerm scheduled for Friday Feb 15.

So, the deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs needs to be well prepared, and do his homework properly, if he wants to win the support of the other members of the panel for the curfew option.

The proposed curfew is likely to face resistance from many other people and organisations, especially human rights advocacy groups, in addition to the defence minister.

The forward command of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), the main organisation tasked with peacekeeping in the far South, proposed a limited curfew following three car bomb explosions in Yala within a period of 11 days last July, and the killing of four soldiers in Mayo district right in front of CCTV cameras.

The proposal met strong resistance and was shelved.

On the record, a curfew from 9pm to 4am the following day was imposed in Yaha and Bannang Sata districts of Yala for two years from March 2007 to August 2009, but did not end the violence.

Instead, it caused a lot of hardship and inconvenience for the civilian population, especially rubber tappers who normally get up long before dawn to tend their trees, and local Muslims who go to mosques for late night or early prayers. In the end, the curfew was lifted.

If Mr Chalerm really wants a curfew of any kind in Yaring and Krong Penang districts he must have a good answer about what to do with the rubber tappers who want to go to work and the local Muslims who want to go to pray.

He, too, will need to answer another pressing point which will certainly be raised.

I am not sure whether Mr Chalerm is aware or not that the recent deadly attack on the farmer training group occurred in the late afternoon, around 4pm or 5pm, and not at night when his curfew would be in force.

The killing of four soldiers in Mayo district of Yala last July also took place in broad daylight and in full view of CCTV security cameras. Many road bomb attacks occur during the daytime, although the holes in the roads the devices are hidden in are dug at night.

Attacks on teachers also generally occur during daylight.

The deputy prime minister himself has a big weak point – he has never set foot in the deep South and has made clear his intention of not doing so. Just imagine, how can a commander who has never even visited his troops on the front line, let alone fought shoulder-to-shoulder with them, ever win the respect of his men and the civilians he is supposed to be protecting?

It will be a tough fight for Mr Chalerm to get the needed support for his curfew option, and there is only a slim chance he will succeed.

Related search: Opinion, Veera Prateepchaikul, southern violence, curfew in the South

About the author

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor