Thailand’s 4th Army Region commander flew in a helicopter Friday to pick up an alleged Muslim insurgent in the Deep South who was turning himself in after eight years in hiding.
Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich made the trip after Ahama Duere called to say he wished to surrender. Piyawat flew from Sena Narong military camp in Songkhla province to Yala province to capture the rebel personally.
Ahama, 38, is a suspected Deep South separatist who had four arrest warrants in Muang and Krong Pinang districts in Yala province, and Rueso district in nearby Narathiwat province, the lieutenant general told reporters. For nearly a decade, Ahama hid out in Raman district in Yala.
Ahama said he called authorities to surrender because his separatist group was disorganized and he and other members lacked confidence in their leaders.
“There are still many members who wanted to come out and turn themselves in, although they do not because they are not assured they will be safe. I think it’s better than staying inside. I had been in a hideout during the past eight years and I was tired of that life,” Ahama told reporters.
The army commander had released his phone number and announced that he would pick up any separatist who called to turn himself in, setting Friday’s events into motion. After Ahama’s relative gave him the phone number, he called twice, leading to the helicopter flight and capture.
Ahama expressed confidence that he would be treated fairly.
The Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 (ISOC4), the military command that covers Thailand’s Deep South, will be involved with Ahama until the prosecution is completed, according to officials. Later, ISOC4 members will help him find a job, allowing him to peacefully return to a normal life, officials said.
Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich, the 4th Army Region commander (third from left) takes separatist Ahama Duere to board a military helicopter in Yala province, Feb. 24, 2017. (Courtesy of ISOC4)
12 years on the run
In November 2016, a man accused of leading an insurgent squad in Thailand’s Deep South for 12 years said he was tired of hiding from the authorities and turned himself in.
Sakariya had led a squad of Runda Kumpulan Kecil, a combat unit of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the largest and most heavily armed of separatist groups fighting Thai security forces in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South.
“I have to hide all the time since the authorities issued an arrest warrant on me. … Officials were always looking for me, so I fled from my neighborhood and stayed with my friends,” Sakariya told reporters at Yala police station after he surrendered.
“It had been a hardship, I was starving, so my family members consulted with each other and they agreed to contact the headman of Tambon Laba to inform the police,” he said, referring to the name of a village cluster.
Beginning in 2007, the ISOC regional branch began a counter-insurgency campaign aimed at encouraging Deep South separatists to lay down their arms. The latest effort is known as the “Bring People Home Project.”
ISOC regional spokesman Col. Pramote Prom-in said the project aimed to rehabilitate and return to normal life those facing criminal charges and others who fear arbitrary prosecution, even if they did not commit a crime.
About 4,000 people have joined the project, Pramote said in November when Sakariya surrendered. Authorities said they had targeted about 9,000 BRN militants to re-integrate into society.
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed since 2004 in violence associated with the decades-old separatist conflict in Thailand’s southern border region, which is predominantly Muslim and Malay speaking.