Army chief 'welcome in restive South'
Published on June 21, 2006 - Muslim communities in the restive South yesterday welcomed calls for Army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin to play a bigger role in restoring peace. But they said he needs to dramatically restructure operations on the ground.
Co-ordinator of the Three Southernmost Provinces Islamic Committee, Abdulrohman Abdulsamad, said changes in personnel alone would not resolve root problems in the mainly Muslim region, as the government had made several changes over the past two years and the violence still continued.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Monday called on Sonthi, who is also chairman of the Implementation, Policy and Strategy Committee, to take a more active role in commanding day-to-day operations.
Thaksin suggested the Army commander should travel to the deep South more to oversee the situation and try and contain the violence, now taking place on an almost daily basis.
Abdulrohman, however, said Sonthi may not be able to carry out the task if he is not guided by the right policy and does not get full support from the government.
"If he gets full backing from the politicians, I hope the commander restructures the operation and gets rid of all the obstacles," he said, without elaborating.
Thaksin gave Sonthi the role after a series of 40 explosions last week killed two people and injured more than two dozen. A military source said Thaksin put the commander in the hot seat after all his men, including Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya, had failed.
Chidchai said he would not be leaving the troubled region and would remain overseeing policy - while allowing Sonthi to command operations.
Authorities detained 17 suspects in connection with the bombings last week, according to Deputy Commander of Police Region Nine Woraphong Shiewpreecha. Police are still looking for more suspects, he added.