South safest in 14 years, army boasts
With forces in control, 3,000 troops to leave
The security situation in the deep South has consistently improved over the last 14 years when the troubles flared up, according to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc).
Thursday marked the 14th anniversary of the theft of a weapons cache and the "night of the fires" that triggered the most recent wave of the insurgency.
Col Pramote Prom-in, spokesman of Isoc Region 4, said the overall situation has since improved with 8,700 troops withdrawn from the region in October 2016.
This year, another 3,000 soldiers will be pulled out with 58,000 to remain stationed there, Col Pramote said.
He said the Isoc has a three-phase roadmap for dousing the flames of the southern unrest.
The first phase ran from 2004-2010 with priority given to controlling the situation by deploying 22 battalions to contain violence.
The second phase launched in 2011 and is now nearing its end. It focusses on implementing proactive measures and development strategies.
Troops from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Armies pulled out last year, while a total of 164 defence volunteer units have been set up to maintain security in their localities, Col Pramote said.
He said thousands of local government officials, volunteers and police officers have been recruited to take part in secret security operations in the region.
If things go according to plan, efforts to restore peace should yield sustainable results in the final phase which will begin next year, Col Pramote said.
Islamic insurgents launched a surprise raid on an armoury of the 4th Development Battalion headquarters at the Kromluang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra military camp in Cho Airong district in Narathiwat province in the early hours of Jan 4, 2004.
The raid is widely regarded as the trigger that set off the renewed insurgency by a fresh breed of hardcore militants.
That attack killed four soldiers. The insurgents also stole 413 firearms and explosives from the battalion's arsenal.
Since then the stolen weapons have been used in attacks and abused to unleash violence repeatedly in the deep South.
Government forces have still only recovered 100 of the 413 stolen guns.
On Thursday's 14th anniversary, security units in Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and Songkhla were put on high alert for possible attacks.
Meanwhile, Isra News Agency reported that a total of 15,164 violent incidents of all types occurred during the period Jan 4, 2004 to Dec 28, 2017.
Violent incidents that triggered security cases numbered 9,823 while the number of cases relating to general crimes and personal conflict was put at 3,982.
Of the 9,823 security cases, 4,235 involved gun attacks, 3,439 involved bombings and 1,505 were cases of arson.
There were also 191 ambushes, 176 weapon heists, 65 protests, 48 attacks on individuals and 41 attacks on security bases.
Of the 3,949 fatalities, 2,557 were civilians. The remainder included 570 soldiers, 384 police officers, 109 teachers, 21 religious leaders and 64 insurgents.
There were over twice as many injuries, or 10,501. Those included 5,856 civilians, 2,701 soldiers, 1,574 police officers, 130 teachers, 24 religious leaders and seven insurgents.
As the figures indicate, civilians have been most affected by the southern violence, followed by soldiers, police, local leaders and teachers.
However, alarming episodes still flare up.
In mid-December all bus services to Yala's Betong district were suspended after armed men ordered passengers to leave a double-decker bus before they torched it. Authorities blamed insurgents.