REPORTING TO Thai authorities under a new peace initiative called "Bring People Home", men subject to security-related arrest warrants in Yala province - in areas where insurgents are active - could see their lives return to normal, with the opportunity
Many of the men, who attended a recent ceremony presided over by Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha, insist they have nothing to do with the continuing violence in the deep South and do not see eye-to-eye with the separatist cause.
“We never feel discriminated against, or welcomed by the separatist cause,” Yerraheng Sulong, 24, a rubber tapper said.
“I have always felt comfortable and at home living in Thailand. I don’t know who puts me in a category deemed ‘hostile to the state’ – and I don’t know anyone in that category either,” he added.
“I feel happy and proud today that Thai authorities are making efforts to solve this basic problem for residents. If such projects were introduced to southern provinces earlier, this feeling [of discrimination] would not have affected locals in the region.”
Yerraheng said all male adults in his neighbourhood had been subject to arrest warrants or summonses for reasons that were unclear. The father of one boy said he saw warrants with his name.
Abdullahshi Sagunmahor, 51, an uncle of Yerraheng, said residents in his village had not cooperated with security officials during their patrols or intelligence gathering trips, because they feared reprisals from insurgents. This could be a reason why men in both neighbourhoods had been subject to warrants and summonses.
The man said his son had worked at a tom yam kung shop Malaysia, after fleeing from Thailand, when he was accused of being behind a bomb attack four years ago. The unnamed man reported to the Bring People Home scheme last month and has since returned to work in Malaysia.
Mayuewan Hayiroh, 32, a resident in Yala, said he was wanted under the Emergency Decree in 2005, one year after an insurgent raid on an Army barracks in Narathiwat, which saw four soldiers killed and a large number of assault rifles looted.
“All adult males in my village and those living nearby have been subject to arrest warrants – including clerics and imams – without any clear reasons given. After I underwent a course and reported myself under the Bring People Home scheme, my name was pulled off the warrant list,” he said.
The Bring People Home scheme was initiated by the Internal Security Operations Command forward base – a pilot project and gesture of good will from Thai authorities to residents in the region. Other efforts are also being made to win over the Muslim population – including an attempt to grant pardons to active insurgents who lay down their arms – or inactive insurgents subject to arrest warrants for previous acts of terrorism.
Colonel Pramote Phrom-in, spokesman for ISOC’s forward base, said 143 people based in Yala subject to arrest warrants or summonses reported themselves on this occasion. Ten men were from Raman district, six from Bannang Sata, three from Muang district, plus 35 from Than To and Betong districts, and another 89 from Yaha and Kabang districts. All up, around 1,000 people, including the men’s relatives attended the sessions.
Some 983 people had reported to authorities under the Bring People Home scheme in the entire region and about two thirds – 648 of them – had seen warrants and summonses revoked. And moves to revoke the remaining 335 were underway, the spokesman said.
During the ceremony, the Army chief delivered a brave and honourable speech to the men, with more apologies delivered directly to relatives during his conversations with them at the ceremony.
“I am glad that residents have shown their sincerity in ending violence and building up long-term peace by taking part in the Bring People Home scheme. Whatever caused their anger and however long ago it was, as the chief of the Army, I wish to apologise for everything and would like to let all of them know I am sorry,” he said.
“We cannot turn back the clock, but from now on we can look forward together, and today’s event is a good occasion where we can join hands to help bring about peace,” the general said.