Military implicates local politicians in south unrest

Military implicates local politicians in south unrest

File photo - Insurgents touched off a buried roadside bomb (far right) as rangers were escorting teachers to school but the explosion and shrapnel missed them all in Narathiwat province on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Royal Thai Police)
File photo - Insurgents touched off a buried roadside bomb (far right) as rangers were escorting teachers to school but the explosion and shrapnel missed them all in Narathiwat province on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Royal Thai Police)

The military has talked with 10 local politicians for allegedly being "partly" responsible for the southern unrest, 4th Army commander Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich said.

Lt Gen Piyawat refused to name the politicians, but said they appeared to understand why the military had talked with them, and he expects they will in due course end their role in the unrest.

He said this is because the politicians' children have played a role in the violence, such as by allegedly hiring assailants to carry out bomb attacks and other violent acts.

Lt Gen Piyawat said the army believes the politicians are backing the violence as a means to discourage foreign investment, which poses a threat to their own business interests.

"In other regions, such people would be called hitmen, but in the [deep] South, they are called insurgents," he said. "I think these people don't deserve to be regarded as such. I prefer to to describe them as criminals."

The situation in the South by and large has improved, he insisted. Muslim clerics have more trust in the current government, while violent incidents and the number of deaths associated with the southern violence has declined.

Tourist arrivals surpassed 4.4 million this year, a rise of more than 100% year on year. Hotels have been fully booked during weekends, while related businesses such as homestays have mushroomed near tourist sites. More gas stations have been opened along the route from Betong in Yala to Hat Yai in Songkhla.

"Even Toon Body Slam ran part of his marathon is southern provinces," said Lt Gen Piyawat, referring to Artiwara Kongmalai, the rock star who started his charity run from Betong in Yala on November.

Local industry is expected to prosper after the government recently issued a policy to promote mining activity -- once a cash cow for the deep South. At least eight companies from Australia have applied for concessions to operate a mining business in the region. So far, three have already received concessions to do business, Lt Gen Piyawat.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, in charge of the government's security affairs, recently approved a proposal to set up more state-run pawnshops in southern border areas, according to Lt Gen Piyawat.

The pawnshop idea was hatched as the government has information that some of the assailants carrying out attacks in the deep South critically needed money to pay for their children's schooling at the start of a new school term. More pawnshops could provide short-term solutions for those who desperately need cash.

Currently, there are very few pawnshops in the border areas of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, he said.

The interior ministry has been ordered to fast-track the opening of pawnshops, said Lt Gen Piyawat, adding that the pawnshops will only collect fees for operation but not interest as it is contrary to the principles of Islam.


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