Insurgency in Southern Thailand

BANGKOK (DNSI)-The insurgency situation in southern Thailand seems to be increasing despite the Thai government's efforts to crush the guerrillas with a massive military effort. The rebel organization, named the National Liberation Front of the Pattani Republic, is composed of communists as well as Muslim separatists who want to be separated from Thailand.

According to Thai Deputy Interior Minister Thawil Sunthornsaratul, the nation is paying some $150,000,000 yearly in suppression efforts. The Royal Thai Army, Navy and police have been steadily increasing their activities in the southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani where the guerrillas control or contest much of the rural areas.

Police Lt.-Gen. Chamras Mundhukanonda, whose organization is primarily responsible for the security in the region, claims that the large number of police will remain in the area for at least a year, to insure complete suppression of the insurgents. "We must," he said, "get rid of the terrorists for once and all."

To facilitate this work, the police department has purchased some 24 armored vehicles from the Ford Motor Co. of the U. S. The cars, which are double iron-clad and made to withstand bullets from M16 rifles, have a capacity of eight men and are equipped with M60 machine guns.

Meanwhile, the Thai Communist Suppression Operations Command (CSOC) has submitted a long-term suppression program for the south to the Thai National Security Council. Lt.-Gen. Saiyud Kerdpol, head of CSOC's coordinating center, explained that the increasing complexity of the southern guerrilla movement necessitated a two-pronged attack-one to immediately crush the rebels by military means and a second to "win the hearts and minds of the people."

THE PROBLEM, of course, is to identify the guerrillas. Last week, the Interior Ministry's Under-Secretary of State Puang Suwannarath announced the government's new policy of not branding anyone a communist without investigating the situation. His statement alone pinpoints a serious problem for the Thais.

Suthichai Yoon, a political analyst for the daily Bangkok Post, called on the government to act with understanding in regard to communist "sympathizers," who are in reality only non-political villagers forced to aid the guerrillas. "Probably," he explains, "this is one reason why we have been told that the number of local people turning to the idealism of communism is increasing. In fact, some of our officials have been forcing the figure to increase."

The elected representatives of Pattani Province, where most of the guerrilla activity is taking place, called on the provincial administrators (composed almost exclusively of Thai Buddhists) to cooperate with them. Rep Vilai Banjalak stated that the elected representatives have close rapport with the people which causes suspicion among the local administrators. He said that when a representative recently bailed out a man from local police custody to helphis family with harvesting, the action was regarded by local officials as supporting banditry.

Rep. Bantherng Abdulbutr, also from Pattani, called on the Thai government to appoint new provincial administrators. "The present trouble," he explained, "is that during the past ten years, the population of these provinces has increased quickly, resulting in more competition for jobs among wage earners. Since residents depend mainly on rubber," he continued, "they suffered greatly during the last decade as rubber prices dropped drastically, leading to substantial unemployment and such social problems as banditry.

One long-time American resident of the area described the traditional Thai policy toward the Muslims. "The Thais think that the way to make the Islamic Malay majority of the south good Thai citizens is to keep repressing them, and of course, it hasn't worked. Another cause for friction is the cultural insensitivity of the Thais, like erecting huge Buddha images in the centers of Muslim villages."

According to the Director General of the Thai Religious Affairs Department, plans have been started to translate the Koran into Thai so the residents of the south could study their scripture in the language of their country. The only problem is that Malay rather than Thai is their mother tongue, and all Muslims use Arabic rather than any vernacular when praying.

(Copyright Dispatch News Service International)