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Change in approach needed in South, not an admin shake-up

Mistakes of the past may just be repeated if root causes of the conflict are not addressed

The Thai military has spoken of a blueprint on a new structure of agencies to handle the ongoing insurgency in the southernmost provinces.

They said it would boost efficiency and strengthen cooperation among various security and development agencies assigned to quell the insurgency in this restive region.

But then, haven't we heard this before? Remember the so-called Pentagon 2 or other promises made by our national leaders about how everything is on the right track?

The junta, who seized power from a civilian government just a month back sounded very much like a broken record, sadly.

But let's look at the bright side of things, although there isn't much to draw on. The fact that the junta will not have to contend with political opposition, and that all agencies, supposedly, are singing from the same sheet of music, offers a good opportunity for the military to put in motion some meaningful initiatives.

Under this new arrangement, the National Security Council (NSC) will become a secretariat that formulates strategy while the Fourth Army will be the implementing agency.

The Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) will continue its traditional role in development but the centre will come under the directive of the Fourth Army Area. It will not shine as bright as the time it was headed by Pol Colonel Thawee Sodsong, the de facto head of the Malaysia-backed peace process that was launched in February 2012 in Kuala Lumpur.

Theoretically, Thailand's position and strategy would be more unified and the various agencies will not be able to stray away on a tangent, as the military is calling the shots. It remains to be seen whether this is a good thing. But if we look at the aftermath of the previous coup and past experience, there are things the current junta could learn from.

In the aftermath of the 2006 coup, for example, the military-appointed government of General Surayud Chulanont apologised for the Tak Bai massacre and reached out to neighbouring countries, namely Malaysia, for advice, and supported a professional mediator to work with the NSC, one of the factions from the Patani United Liberation Organisation.

Another thing that Surayud did was he put an end to the use of "black-lists", and also clamped down on targeted killings of suspected insurgents. The culture of impunity and the use of extra-judicial killings on the ground had hampered the peace process from establishing meaningful traction.

All these positive developments provided a glimpse of hope for the region. But it was short-lived as the military that had appointed him had a different idea - a major troop surge and a vicious shakedown that sent thousands of young men to "education" camps outside the region. And when the court intervened and ordered these young men to be released, the military declared them persona non grata in the deep South.

This time around, the junta is likely to appoint a prime minister who will toe their line. In fact, there is talk that junta supremo General Prayuth Chan-ocha could himself become the prime minister. Definitely, it will make the chain of command much more efficient.

But all this restructuring is like clapping with one hand. The military has never talked about a peaceful coexistence between the Malays of Patani and the Thai state. The junta should know that they don't have to reinvent the wheel and that they could draw from past experience, like the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Commission that touched on the root causes of the conflict and prescribed ways to achieve reconciliation.


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