The 4th Army Region recently welcomed it new commander — Lt Gen Kriangkrai Srirak – a veteran soldier with 34 years of hands-on experience of working in the southern region. Lt Gen Kriangkrai’s priority is nothing but peace talks that he admits that it has yet to make significant progress.
Born in Surat Thani province, Lt Gen Kriangkrai was promoted to the commander of the 4th Army Region on Oct 1 this year.
Lt Gen Kriangkrai has been working as the secretary-general of the government’s peace dialogue panel since Gen Udomchai Thammasarorat was head of the delegation now under the leadership of Gen Wanlop Rugsanaoh.
When Lt Gen Kriangkrai became the 4th army region commander, he assigned Maj Gen Thira Daewa, who is deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4’s Forward Command, to be the panel’s secretary-general.
“I have always worked there. I know the problem well. That’s why I believe that military operations — suppression and law enforcement — cannot put an end to the conflict. We need negotiation with the leaders of the separatists. But I have to admit that there has not been much progress in our negotiations with them so far.”
The new commander admitted the government’s peace talks process was slow due to the Covid-199 pandemic.
After the Covid-19 situation further improves, Gen Wanlop’s peace dialogue panel will meet with seven separatist groups led by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).
“We have already talked to them. We told them that they can propose a special administration zone for the three southern border provinces, but it must not go against the Thai constitution which says Thailand is one and indivisible kingdom.
“We have confidence in Malaysia’s role as our peace talks facilitator. Abdul Rahim Noor used to say that Thailand had helped Malaysia negotiate with the Nan yang Communist Party of Malaya (NCPM) before and now it’s Malaysia’s turn to help Thailand.”
During the peak of Covid-19 in Thailand, there were almost no violent incidents, the commander said.
“Separatists who live in the neighbouring country were unable to cross the Thai border due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. On the Thai side, military forces were deployed along the borders to prevent the virus’ spread caused by illegal border crossings. That was one of the reasons why we saw a drop in violent incidents.”
“We will continue to deploy forces like we did during the height of the pandemic, erect barbed-wire fences, and install lights in natural border channels to prevent violent incidents.”
Apart from the use of force, the commander said the military must try to persuade local people to side with it while preventing them from being misled by the separatists.
In doing so, Lt Gen Kriangkrai said: “It’s important that we know Muslims’ customs and traditions. We should even speak some Yawi language.”
“Being the 4th army region commander is an important opportunity for me to help deal with the southern problem in the way that I have always believe in. Although I cannot say or even hope that the southern violence will end during my term, I will do my best to minimise it.”
When he was a boy, Lt Gen Kriangkrai wanted to be a police officer like his father but later changed his mind, aspiring to be an army officer like his uncle who served in the Vietnam war.
The commander, an alumnus of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School Class 22, said he had never regretted his decision to join the army.
“I was cut out for the job because I’m down to earth. I patrol along the borders, working alongside my subordinates. We have fought together.”
In 1986, Lt Gen Kriangkrai chose to work in his hometown but he had to travel to work in the southern border region infiltrated by the Nan yang Communist Party of Malaya (NCPM) at that time.
He fought against the NCPM in Sukhirin district in Narathiwat and Betong district in Yala before the Malaysian government and the NCPM agreed to call a truce with Thailand mediating between them.
However, terrorists’ influence in the southern border region still endured at that time. They later formed a separatist group which has continued to instigate violence up until now.
“We military officers work every day without a day off. There are meetings and field visits that we have to take part in. There are also international organisations and diplomats we have to meet.”
Lt Gen Kriangkrai is known for his friendliness and generosity particularly to his subordinates. He been told that he always takes good care of officers in his unit.
The new commander has a lot of connections that he established while he was a young training officer at the Reserves Training Centre Territorial Defence Department. He also has a reputation of being friendly and generous.
At the age of 57, Lt Gen Kriangkrai loves to exercise to stay healthy so that he can give 100% at work.
“I won’t get tired and won’t stop working. I do hope that the southern situation will get better and there will be peace eventually.”