Prayuth seeks to broaden South talks

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has held peace talks with southern insurgent groups, both openly and behind closed doors, according to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

"We must identify the people who will join the talks and they must be true leaders of the movement," the army chief said in his weekly televised address on Friday night.

Leaders of all separatist groups must take part in the talks, not just a leader from one big group, because the small groups also have an impact in the area, he said. Some splinter groups might even try to intensify the conflict so that they would be pulled into the negotiations, he added.

Efforts by the previous government to find a solution to the decade-long insurgency focused on Malaysian-brokered talks with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist movement.

Those talks were put on hold during the political unrest that began late last year, but a BRN spokesman said this week that "we are ready when Bangkok is ready" to resume negotiations.

Gen Prayuth said the NCPO was also figuring out better ways to deal with the unrest in the deep South. Officials want to get different sides to meet and discuss all dimensions - from development and legal issues to unfair treatment.

He said insurgents cited identity, religion, injustice and history as factors at the root of the violence. But they must accept that violence cannot go unanswered.

When arms are used, law must be enforced and clashes and losses of life are unavoidable, said Gen Prayuth. As the situation escalated, the number of security forces in the area was no longer enough so more troops must be used.

"It doesn't make sense to say that if we call back the troops, the fighting will stop," he said. "I don't think it's proper thinking because this is what other countries do all over the world.

"More soldiers were deployed because existing security forces could no longer handle the situation. Why? Because the affected area covers 30 to 37 districts or 2,000 villages. ... It's not that soldiers want more allowances.

"I don't think anyone wants to go [to the South] but as soldiers they must do what they're told. They need to make everywhere safe for the 2 million people there. We just can't skip some areas because insurgents will quickly take advantage of loopholes

"To do so, we need to deploy tens of thousands of troops to protect everyone."

Criticism of the military's approach to the South, he added, should be more constructive and practical.

"There's a limit to what we can do," he said. "Too much use of an iron fist will affect people's lives. Don't ask us to do things we can't do."

Gen Prayuth urges the public to remain calm: "If you're in a hurry, I'll be in a hurry and I think that would be dangerous because certain things need more time to be solved."

Gen Prayuth also used his address to reiterate the NCPO's tough stand against those who commit lese majeste.

"I won't let any person use the royal institution to destroy each other," he said. "Foreigners don't understand our royal institution and I ask all Thais to explain this to them."

As well, he defended the authority of the provisional government in response to criticism that the interim constitution gives the NCPO and its leader carte blanche to override any legislative decisions if they see fit.

"During the first phase, the provisional government will take considerable time and execute more laws to pave the way for national reform and prepare electoral regulations to bring about a complete democracy," he said.

"In the second phase, we'll pass on our work to the next government that comes from elections. I'm telling everyone repeatedly that they can stay calm because if you're in a hurry, I'll be in a hurry and I think that would be dangerous because certain things need more time to be solved."

Gen Prayuth also used his weekly address to stress the need for clearer agricultural policies and cooperation from farmers to solve repeated annual problems of plummeting farm prices.

He said never-ending price problems with crops such as rice, rubber, palm, sugarcane and tapioca reflected the fact that there was no clear policy or that policies had not been carried out according to plan.

Therefore, he said, it was necessary to have a clear roadmap for the short and long term to solve these repeated problems. But success would only occur when farmers cooperated with the government.

"If we do not have zoning, there will be oversupply. Systematic solutions to such problems require cooperation from all farmers," he said.

He also urged everyone in the system to leverage profits for the greater good. For example, fertiliser producers could help farmers reduce their cost of production, while the government could look at controlling rubber plantation areas.

Overplanting of rubber trees during a boom a decade ago has led to a severe oversupply and falling prices today as those trees have now matured.

Gen Prayuth said that Somkid Jatusripitak, an NCPO adviser, recently visited China and discussed ways that China could provide more markets for Thai farm products such as rice, rubber and fruits. More discussion would be needed in the future, he added.

Related search: Thailand, South, peace talks, Prayuth Chan-ocha

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Writer: Wassana Nanuam
Position: Reporter