Army chief meets military officials, Muslim leaders in South


BANGKOK, April 10 – Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha made a field trip to Thailand’s restive South today for a first-hand update on the troubled situation and a meeting with Muslim religious and community leaders.

He said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in her capacity as director of the Internal Security Operations Command, has instructed southern authorities to intensify their protection for the local population, especially in urban areas.

He met with the premier before his departure and was accompanied by the prime minister’s adviser Yuthasak Sasiprapa.

The army chief is to be briefed by Fourth Army Region commander Sakol Chuentrakul on military operations in the last six months and the army’s plan for the next six months.

The briefing will be followed by a meeting with military personnel to extend his Thai New Year’s wishes for the annual Songkran festival.

He will visit the central mosque in Yala province where he plans to meet Muslim religious leaders and community heads.

Gen Prayuth said the possible delay of the April 29 peace dialogue between Thai security officials and Muslim rebel leaders in Kuala Lumpur should not be a subject of the media’s attention.

The National Security Council is responsible for the peace talks, and they must not put Thailand at a disadvantage, he asserted.

Meanwhile, a group of 233 former suspects in connection with southern insurgency and criminal activities held a special forum at the Tanyong Hotel in Narathiwat province to express their frustration and seek government assistance in their assimilation into the Thai society.

Tawee Sodsong, secretary general of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), and Narathiwat Deputy Governor Samart Varadisai, attended the meeting to jointly find solutions to their problems.

The 233 people, formerly on arrest warrants, separately gave themselves up to the authorities who promised to treat them fairly and return them to society as free men.

They said they could not find jobs and have been rejected by society.

The group asked the SBPAC to explain their status to potential employers and stop calling them “southern criminals”.

Santi Chuduang, chief of the southern rehabilitation centre, said the government is willing to help them and the authorities will boost publicity to create a better understanding among southern communities.

The former suspects surrendered to the authorities and went through a process to prove their innocence under the government’s scheme to resolve the long insurgency in the South.