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'Pentagon II' sets strategies as PM rules out curfew

Meeting discusses NSC proposals on South; Chalerm says many insurgents ready to surrender if safety assured

Deputy Prime Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha has taken charge of the newly set up operation centre, which will work on new strategies to restore peace in the restive south, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday.

The prime minister then went on to say that the authorities were not considering the option of declaring a curfew in the region because it would only make the situation worse.

Yingluck held a meeting yesterday with 17 ministries and other security agencies to implement the nine strategies mapped out by National Security Council (NSC) to contain violence in the predominantly Muslim region.

"We got together to wrap up the strategies, set the priorities and allocate budgets for the operation," the premier told reporters after the meeting. "It will take time to solve the problem because many agencies are involved. We also need cooperation from neighbouring countries, notably Malaysia, which borders the deep South."

The centre, dubbed "Pentagon II" by the media and Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, began its work yesterday by handing out tasks to seven groups in relation to issues such as directing operations and handling the justice system, deputy Army commander Daophong Rattanasuwan said. The panel will also focus on marking out 13 safety zones in the region, NSC secretarygeneral Wichean Potephosree said.

There has been a spate of insurgency attacks since early 2004 in the southernmost border provinces, claiming thousands of lives.

However, opposition Democrat MP Thaworn Senneam said the government's new operation centre would confuse many agencies on the ground. The socalled "Pentagon II" would only confuse matters rather than allow proper coordination, he warned.

"The prime minister herself should sit on the top to coordinate with all agencies, but if she does not have the ability or the knowledge to handle the job, then she should have one of her deputies do so," Thaworn said.

Yingluck, meanwhile, said that the newly set up body would not overlap with existing agencies and would instead bring them together to follow the same strategy.

"We have as many as 17 ministries and 66 agencies working to solve the problems in the deep South, so we need to work on it systematically," she said.

Chalerm added that the government would not change its operational structure for the deep South, but would make adjustments for the sake of efficiency. In addition, he added, Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit would step in to help should the different agencies have problems coordinating.

"We have to integrate all systems, including the intelligence services, to have an efficient operation," he said.

Chalerm added that he had informed the prime minister about some 40 insurgents wanting to surrender provided their safety is taken care of. He added that if the government had a clear policy on this matter, then more insurgents would surrender, he said.

A good way to end the violence would be to negotiate with insurgents along with a better military operation, he said. When asked who would represent the insurgents, Chalerm said there were certain contacts who were in touch with government officials from time to time.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul brought along the ministry's permanent secretary, the Thai ambassador to Malaysia as well as the director of the South Asia, Middle East and Africa Affairs Department to the meeting to provide information on how Thailand can seek cooperation from Islamic states to contain violence in the South.

"We will keep updating Muslim countries and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference about the situation for better understanding," Surapong said.


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