Violence in Thailand’s Deep South escalated in recent weeks as hardline insurgents tried to dissuade comrades from surrendering through the military’s Bring People Home rehabilitation program, a leader of the region’s biggest rebel group said Wednesday.
Hardliners launched the attacks this month to create fear among other insurgents, the political wing leader of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (the National Revolutionary Front, or BRN), who identified himself as Uzmai, said in a rare interview with BenarNews. Citing concerns for his own safety, he asked that his identity and location not be publicized.
“They claimed they conducted the attacks to challenge the program and to create fear among the insurgent members, giving them a message to not surrender. So the situation got more violent,” Uzmai told BenarNews.
In early February, Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich, the army commander in Thailand’s southern border region, presented nearly 300 enrollees identified as insurgents, including BRN members, as they surrendered symbolically as part of the newly revamped Bring People Home project.
In addition, more than 100 members of the Patani United Liberation Organization, another southern Thai rebel group, traveled from Malaysia where they had settled years ago to sign up for the program.
Bring People Home allows enrollees to live in their home villages while attending activities such as “attitude adjustment” indoctrination sessions and vocational training aimed at helping them get jobs and reintegrate back into civilian life after laying down their weapons.
Since the ceremony on Feb. 2, insurgents mounted several attacks across the Deep South that injured 22 security personnel, seven civilians and five students. Five other officials and eight civilians were shot and killed during the same period, but their deaths have not been linked to the insurgent attacks.
“The existing BRN members wreak havoc every time they can and with whatever they can. We saw a lot more officials targeted, be they vice village headman, village headman, soldiers or government contractors,” Uzmai said.
Tensions exist among BRN militants who have stayed in the Deep South and others who moved abroad with their families to escape the violence, the political wing leader added.
“The rumor of rifts in the BRN is true,” he said. “Over the past decades, militants who have conducted violent attacks can’t stay at home. Their families have faced hardship while the leaders live a good life, better than a tycoon.”
Uzmai said the government had offered good incentives for insurgents to join the rehabilitation program, and Malay-speaking residents of the predominantly Muslim Deep South did not object when hardcore insurgents were captured, unless they were tortured by the Thai military.
‘Up to the people to help’
Piyawat, meanwhile, called the increase in violence normal.
“They continue attacks as they did. We use the lawful way to stop them,” he said. “I want to stay in this region. I want to successfully create safety zones in the three provinces in the Deep South and the 14 provinces of the South.
“It is up to people to help. I want those people to come back and help develop the country,” he said.
A Deep South analyst said the government must maintain a peaceful approach in the region.
“Lately, the perpetrators want to show off their strength and counter officials’ implementation of the program,” Deep South Watch director Srisompob Jitpiromsri told BenarNews.
“The government must keep a cool head,” he said, adding that he expected the situation in the Deep South to improve soon.
Violence has killed close to 7,000 people in the Thai Deep South since the decades-old separatist insurgency re-ignited 14 years ago.