Not all troops to leave far South, they're still needed, says Pracha

There will be a partial withdrawal of troops from the restive far South, but many will remain there because they are still needed for specialist tasks, Deputy PM Pracha Promnok said on Tuesday.

"We won't withdraw all troops from the area but we can reduce the number and focus on development rather than fighting,'' Pol Gen Pracha, who oversees national security, told reporters at Government House.

His remarks came after the Thai government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist group agreed to curb violence over a 40 day period, including the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, from July 10 to Aug 18.

Pol Gen Pracha Promnok (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

So far "there has been very little (insurgency) violence and no loss of life, only injuries,'' Pol Gen Pracha said.

"We can say that the BRN is sincere to a certain extent, based on its behaviour,'' he added.

The deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs said the government and security agencies were closely monitoring the situation in the far South and developments with the BRN.

Nearly a decade of conflict in Thailand's southernmost provinces has left more than 5,700 people dead.

Thdere are about 60,000 troops stationed in the South.

The withdrawal of all soldiers deployed from other regions to the southernmost border provinces is one of the demands made by the BRN in talks with the Thai government delegation led by National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Lt Gen Paradon Pattanatabut.

That was underlined on Tuesday morning by two white cloth banners, each with the same message telling soldiers to get out of the area and declaring support for the BRN, found hanging at separate spots on a roadside near Ban Laweng in tambon Choeng Khiri of Narathiwat's Si Sakhon district.

The message on each of the banners read: "Soldiers get out. Support BRN."   It was written in red in the Thai language.

District police and soldiers from the 49th Ranger Regiment were sent to examine the area. The cloth banners were removed and sent to the forensic science unit of Narathiwat for further examination.

Peace talks between Thailand and the insurgent movement are facilitated by Malaysia.

Thailand has begun reducing the number of soldiers deployed to the far South and replacing them with police in some tasks. But tens of thousands of troops remain there.

Ahmad Zamzamin Hashim, the Malaysian facilitator, was quoted by the New Straits Times on Saturday as saying  that Thailand must address the issue of the military's role in the restive region.

"The Thai government has begun to redeploy some of its troops in what is understood to be as many as 500 villages in southern Thailand,'' he said.

The Ramadan truce was announced by Mr Ahmad on Friday, July 12, in Kuala Lumpur.

"Initially, it was supposed to be a declaration, but both sides have not signed any document. Hence, we treat it as a common understanding made in the spirit of Ramadan,'' he was quoted as saying by the Malaysian daily.

The 40 violence-free days initiative announced included Sadao district of Songkhla province, which normally is violence-free and is never mentioned as an area at risk from the southern insurgency. It is not under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which applies in four other districts of Songkhla. However, it is a military corridor.

Other area included in the peace announcement are Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces, where the emergency decree applies, and four other districts of Songkhla - Chana, Thepha, Na Thawi and Saba Yoi - which are under the less draconian ISA.

Thaworn Senneam, a Democrat Party MP for Songkhla, repeated a call for the government to reject the initiative, because it included Sadao.

Sadao, an economic district and key border link to Malaysia, has never been on the list of the locations battered by the southern violence, said Mr Thavorn, whose constituency includes the district.

Prasit Meksuwan, an adviser to the Civil Society Council of Southernmost Thailand, was not surprised at its inclusion. "It's very normal,'' he told FM100.5 news programme. "Sadao has long been on the BRN map given its history as part of the far South.''

The Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) announced on Tuesday it has set up a special centre for the coordination and promotion of peace during Ramadan, with its own working committee.

SBPAC secretary-general Pol Col Thawee Sodsong said on the working committee is headed by Maj Gen Charin Amornkaew, deputy director of Region 4 Internal Security Operations Command, and comprises 42 police, military and public sector representatives.

The committee is responsible for monitoring the work of various agencies and organisations promoting peace during Ramadan and keeping track of any violent incidents which occur for a period of 60 days during and after the Muslim holy month.

It will also produce operational reports with recommendations to promote peace in the southernmost border provinces and will provide support and assistance for relevant agencies as directed by the SBPAC.

Related search: insurgency, thailand, malaysia, troop withdrawal, south, yala, pattani, narathiwat, songkhla, sadao

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Writer: Bangkok Post and AFP