Curfew mulled for deep South

Curfew mulled for deep South

Isoc calls on locals not to be alarmed

Security officials observe the checkpoint in Muang district of Yala where an attack on Tuesday night led to the deaths of 15 people. (Photo by Abdullah Benjakat)
Security officials observe the checkpoint in Muang district of Yala where an attack on Tuesday night led to the deaths of 15 people. (Photo by Abdullah Benjakat)

Security authorities have been given the green light to consider imposing a curfew in eight districts of four southernmost provinces for one year, but they say the move has nothing to do with this week's deadly attack in Yala.

The announcement in the Royal Gazette, which was published on Thursday and released yesterday, allows the director of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) -- Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha -- to consider a curfew in Mae Laen district of Pattani; Chana, Saba Yoi, Thepha and Na Thawi in Songkhla; Betong district of Yala, and Sungai Kolok and Sukhirin districts of Narathiwat. It would take effect from Dec 1 this year to Nov 30 next year.

The measure is intended to "prevent, contain, and manage the situation in areas where there are threats to national security in an orderly and effective manner", the announcement said.

It did not mention any specific cause for the authorisation of expanded powers, but it came just days after an attack at a security checkpoint in Yala that resulted in the deaths of 15 people.

Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng, an Isoc spokesman, was quick to point out that a night-time ban would not be imposed, as the announcement only authorises the agency to do so.

Col Pramote Phrom-in, a spokesman for the Isoc Region 4 Forward Command, said people should not get into a panic over the news.

Neither officer could clarify why the areas chosen were selected for a possible curfew.

The attack in Muang district of Yala on Tuesday night represented the worst loss of life in the recent history of the troubled region, where more than 7,000 people have died since the insurgency was revived in 2004.

But Defence Ministry spokesman Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich said the announcement was not related to the massacre, noting that Muang district of Yala was not included.

Col Pramote played down media reports about a blanket curfew.

"The announced Section 18 regulation only authorises [the Isoc] to announce a curfew. Isoc has yet to decide on how it may implement that authority," he said.

Defence Ministry spokesman Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich media that the regulation wasn't yet a curfew.

Moreover, he said, the regulation had nothing to do with Tuesday night's brutal attack on a security checkpoint in Yala's Muang district, which killed 15 people -- mostly village defence volunteers -- and injured five others.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Prayut said that if a curfew was needed, it would be invoked for as a short time as possible and only to facilitate the ongoing investigations.

The prime minister said the groups behind the attack had been identified.

The premier, however, refused to go into detail about the identity of the groups, saying authorities require more time to collect evidence.

The attackers' aim was to stir up unrest and press security authorities to use force against them, but authorities must continue tackling such violence with a peaceful approach, law enforcement, development projects and promotion of public participation in the peace-keeping mission, he said.

"If we interpret the situation incorrectly and choose the wrong approach to deal with it, the violence will flare up even more," he said.

Regarding the government's peace talks with the southern insurgent groups, which are being facilitated by the Malaysian government, Gen Prayut said he had emphasised that he also wants dialogue with the groups actively involved in the southern violence.

The peace talks are being conducted on many levels and involve various parties including political leaders, military officials and former and current leaders of the insurgent groups, he said.

The military yesterday arrested one suspect in connection with Tuesday's attack.

The suspect, whose name was withheld, was wearing a black military-style outfit when he was apprehended in Than To district of Yala. He is a native of tambon Pak Lor in Khok Pho district of Pattani, according to Col Pramote.

The suspect has already been transported to the Ingkayutborihan military camp in Pattani, he said.

Bullets confiscated from the suspect were similar to those used by insurgents in previous cases, authorities said.

They included a gold shop robbery in Na Thawi district in Songkhla province in August, an attack on an Islamic Bank of Thailand ATM at Fatoni University in Pattani, also in August, and the fatal shooting at a defence volunteer checkpoint in tambon Pakaharang in Muang district of Pattani in July.

Col Pramote said that authorities would also investigate whether the suspect is linked to those previous attacks.

Meanwhile, 4th Army Region commander Lt Gen Phonsak Poonsawat told reporters that the attackers belonged to a group with at least 20 members.

"They have repeatedly launched attacks in the restive southern provinces," he said. "The army is launching a manhunt and will use special laws to bring them to justice. They must be caught, otherwise they will continue their attacks."

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