New southern army chief likely in April

Maj-Gen Kitti Inthasorn is tipped to take over as army chief in the South in a mid-year reshuffle aimed at a smooth transition of power and no disruption to operations in the restive region.

An army source said army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has decided to promote Maj Gen Kitti, who is the deputy chief of the 4th Army Region, to replace  Udomchai Thammasaroratch in the mid-year reshuffle.

The list will be announced this month and the promotion will be effective on April 1.

Lt Gen Udomchai would be moved to the position of army adviser until his retirement at the end of September, the source added.

The mid-year reshuffle was routine and intended to give officers opportunities to move up, the source said.

"The army chief wants officers in the 4th Army Region who are familiar with the problems and the situation in the region to be promoted," the source said.

Maj Gen Kitti was a classmate of National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabutra in Class 14 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat will have talks with the permanent secretary for defence and all armed forces chiefs on Tuesday to discuss the promotion list, the source added.

Meanwhile, the NSC will seek cabinet approval for the extension of the emergency decree in the three restive southern border provinces for another three months from March 19.

Lt Gen Paradorn said this was decided at today's meeting of the committee on the administration of the emergency situation chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.

The emergency decree currently imposed in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces will expire on March 19. A proposal for the extension of the decree would be tabled to the cabinet for consideration next week, he added.

Lt Gen Paradorn said the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) had proposed that the emergency decree be lifted in five districts - Kapho district of Pattani, Betong and Kabang districts of Yala, and Waeng and Sukhirin districts of Narathiwat.

The meeting agreed to the proposal. However, the NSC needed to first raise the matter during planned talks with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist group.

If the situation in the five districts was improving, the emergency decree in the areas would be lifted and replaced with the Internal Security Act (ISA), he said.

The NSC chief said the SBPAC proposal was based on the fact that there had been few violent incidents in the five districts, the readiness of Interior Ministry officials and police to replace soldiers, and the opinions of the local people.

"We are confident the ISA can be enforced in the five districts. We just want this matter raised in talks with the BRN. 

"Following the signing of the pact, the Thai side wants to gauge the sincerity of the other side," Lt-Gen Paradorn said.

The defence minister said in an interview he believed the situation in the deep South would improve following the signing of the talks agreement with the BRN.

"The signing of the agreement was the first key, which must be constitutional," he said.

 ACM Sukumpol said there must be further talks to come to a consensus on what would be raised for negotiation, how and where.

On former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's comment that he had talks with Sapae-ing Basor, a core member of the BRN, who had conveyed the group's proposals to him, ACM Sukumpol said he had not seen them, adding that what had been done was only the beginning of the peace initiative.

ACM Sukumpol did not give a direct reply when asked about suggestions Hassan Taib, the BRN liaison official who signed the agreement with the NSC chief, might be the same person who was taken by Gen Chettha Thanajaro, the former army chief, to announce a ceasefire in the deep South without conditions on TV Channel 5 in 2008.

He said only that the people who said this were people who do not want to see any progress made.

Asked why Thaksin, who once branded southern insurgents "cheap bandits", had changed his stance, ACM Sukumpol said the situation had changed.

"Now we know what is what," he said.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has rejected an invitation from Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm to attend a meeting on Wednesday on solving the problems in the far South.

Mr Abhisit said he had received a letter of invitation from Mr Chalerm, but he would turn it down because the government had already gone far ahead by signing a peace pact with an insurgent group.

The signing of the peace talks agreement with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional did not solve the problem, he said. Parliament should be the forum for an exchange of opinions on solving the problem.

There would be no point in his talking to officials operating in troubled areas because their operations were now tied to the peace plan, Mr Abhisit said.

The meeting, according to Mr Chalerm, was intended to brainstorm opinions for solving problems in the far South.

The Democrat leader said he also received a letter from House deputy speaker Charoen Chankomol inviting party MPs to attend a meeting about amnesty legislation on Tuesday, March 5.

He had replied that before sending its representatives to attend a meeting on such an important matter the party would have to call a meeting of its MPs to make a decision.

Related search: kitti inthasorn, army, reshuffle, south, insurgency

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Writer: Wassana Nanuam and Manop Thip-osod