PM invokes S44 in far South synergy push

PM invokes S44 in far South synergy push

Locals in Yala join a peace walk on March 19. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has invoked Section 44 to force the key agencies in the strife-torn region to work together. (Photo by Panumas Sanguanwong)
Locals in Yala join a peace walk on March 19. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has invoked Section 44 to force the key agencies in the strife-torn region to work together. (Photo by Panumas Sanguanwong)

Finally, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has resorted to the use of the draconian Section 44 to forge synergies between two core agencies dealing with unrest in the deep South, namely the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) and the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc).

The need for synergy became clear after the original idea of merging the two agencies, proposed by Isoc and the army, did go anywhere. Six months ago, the prime minister instructed the agencies to find ways to restructure the organisations, without success.

Gen Prayut said he did not want to disband the SBPAC. Past lessons show that would have made things worse. The last time it was tried was in 2002, when the then Thaksin Shinawatra government centre closed down the centre -- a move that was believed to have caused conflicts among local officials.

Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

The centre was revived by the Surayud Chulanont government in 2006 amid escalating violence in the strife-torn region. The merger plan has also faced fierce resistance from key figures such as SBPAC secretary-general Phanu Uthairat.

Section 44 will enable the SBPAC, which has a budget of three billion baht and manpower of 200, to shelve its own law and integrate its work with the Isoc. Ideally, the centre and the Isoc have to complement each other.

A source in the army said the suggested merger arose from concerns in the army that the Yala-based SBPAC, due to its impressive budget, had been exploited by political parties which wanted to use the centre's resources to strengthen their political bases.

"Gen Prayut, who was then army chief and deputy Isoc director, was well aware of this problem," said the source.

The prime minister, in resorting to the special powers, wanted military operations and development work to go side by side. "I cannot disband the SBPAC again but the agencies must aim for synergy in their work. The army merely has weapons. Without development work, soldiers will be despised by locals," said the prime minister, who insisted development and military operations cannot be separated.

Every agency must join hands to end the violence. "If they are still at odds, we cannot achieve peace," Gen Prayut said. ''Start cooperating where you can find common ground. When encounteri ng problems, stop and move to other areas where you can agree. We must do this or we will not get far," he added.

Gen Pisit Sitthisan, army chief-of-staff and Isoc secretary-general, denied conflicts between his agency and the SBPAC. The two agencies just lack coordination and have different styles of work, he said.

"But now that Section 44 is in force, the SBPAC will have to attend our meetings. It needs to consult with us before drawing up development plans," he said.

As an example, he said, if Isoc targets any area, the SBPAC will have to continue the work, providing money and manpower to promote development in that area. SBPAC secretary-general Phanu will remain in his position but will have to work more closely with the army.

Gen Pisit said a new panel will bring together advisers and experts representing Isoc and SBPAC. Also, the government has given Isoc new assignments to cover such as disaster relief, drug suppression, transnational crime and royally-initiated development projects.

Wassana Nanuam

Senior news reporter

Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

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