The government yesterday offered an olive branch to Muslim militants in the far South – despite a spate of insurgent attacks on the weekend, saying it plans to replace enforcement of the Emergency Decree with the more lenient Internal Security Act (ISA).
National Security Council Secretary-General Lt General Pharadorn Phatthanathabutr and Fourth Army Area Commander Lt General Udomchai Thammasarorat said enforcement of the ISA would allow insurgents to enter a plea bargaining scheme under Article 21 of the internal security law.
The measure, they said, would eventually lead to peace in the deep South. The two spoke to reporters after security agencies held a meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the Government House to discuss the situation in the strife-torn southern border provinces.
The meeting was held before Yingluck’s visit to Malaysia next Thursday. The meeting followed insurgents’ stepped-up attacks, which were seen as retaliation for the killing of 16 insurgents last Wednesday morning (Feb 13). The insurgents were killed while on their way to attack a marine base in Narathiwat.
Despite stepped-up attacks on the weekend, the Army chief and national police chief assured the prime minister the situation was under control, Pharadorn said.
Pharadorn said the meeting agreed to enforce the ISA instead of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in a State of Emergency (2005), which was enforced in the three southern border provinces.
Pharadorn said the meeting was told the ISA enforcement would focus on the use of Article 21 to allow insurgents to enter the plea bargaining scheme in line with the government’s policy to tackle the southern violence through peaceful means.
He said the prime minister supported the plan to apply Article 21 of the ISA.
In October, the plea bargaining scheme under Article 21 was enforced successfully for the first time after a provincial court in Songkhla freed two convicted insurgents after six months of re-education.
Pharadorn said during Yingluck’s visit to Malaysia, he would make preparations for the prime minister to talk with the neighbouring country on security cooperation regarding the three southern border provinces and the issue of dual citizenship of Malay-speaking residents in the provinces.
When asked if enforcement of the ISA would run against the current situation, given insurgents have stepped up attacks, Pharadorn replied: “The situation seemed [like increased violence] – but when we considered the attacks closely, the situation was not so [extreme]. The attacks in Pattani over the weekend involved the use of firebombs to intimidate people into not cooperating with the authorities.”
Pharadorn said the insurgents resorted to intimidation because more local residents were cooperating with authorities.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung proposed the imposing of a curfew to deal with the stepped-up attacks but Cabinet agreed with the NSC’s proposal to cancel the curfew plan, which had been dropped after a similar meeting last week.
“The government’s measure is clear. We focus on the peaceful way [of seeking a solution]. We open a venue for them to come and hold talks,” Pharadorn said, adding that some 90 insurgents had already surrendered and might be allowed to enter the bargaining scheme.
Udomchai explained that talks would be unofficial, as the government could not hold official negotiations with insurgents. He said the government was using all legal moves and human rights measures to try to improve the situation. Enforcement of Article 21 would allow the insurgents to be pardoned in line with the human rights measures, while the insurgents were continuing to use violence. Local residents would become fed up with the insurgents and turn to cooperate with the authorities.
“Now, we have an advantage in the psychological warfare. In the past, the insurgents had an advantage but we have been solving problems for a long time with sincerity and determination, and have earned an upper hand,” Udomchai said.