Government’s insensivity towards unrest problem in deep South
Believe it or not that the government has the temerity to push for the appointment of General Panlop Pinmanee, an advisor to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as acting director of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC)?
Many people have interpreted the government’s move as a sign of its insensitivity towards the feelings of the people in the three southernmost provinces. General Panlop, former deputy director of ISOC, was the man who ordered the storming of the Krue Se mosque on April 28, 2004, which killed all the 32 “rebels” who took refuge in the ancient masjid which represents the symbol of the prosperity of Islam in the deep South.
The traumatic incident was named the “Krue Se incident”. On the same day, suspected insurgents attacked 11 military and police posts in Pattani, Yala, Songkhla and Narathiwat provinces simultaneously. But when the violence ended on that tragic day, more than 100 Malay Muslims were dead, including the 32 inside Krue Se mosque.
At the Krue Se mosque which was surrounded by security forces, the suspected rebels were told to surrender and to get out but to no avail. General Panlop, in his capacity as ISOC deputy director, exercised his authority as the commanding officer overseeing the situation then ordered troops to storm the mosque to flush out the suspected rebels who were mostly armed with knives, machetes and a single gun. All the men inside the mosque were killed.
To justify the use of lethal force, General Panlop explained that it was necessary to end the siege because it was getting dark and the situation might get out of control. However, it was just 2.15 in the afternoon when the mosque was stormed by troops.
The incident became a headline news throughout the world prompting the government of then Prime Minister Thaksin to set up a fact-finding panel to find out the truth on May 4. The probe team was headed by Mr Suchinda Yongsunthorn, a former Constitution Court judge.
The enquiry did not blame the security forces of overacting but faulted the authorities concerned of not trying hard enough to persuade the suspected rebels to surrender and to resolve the incident by peaceful means.
Since the enquiry did not fault anyone in particular for the fatal raid and for the 32 deaths, the prosecutors decided not to press charges against any individual. But the incident has become an iconic symbol of injustice for many Malay Muslims in the restive region.
After the enquiry, General Panlop was removed from having any responsibility in the deep South but he still retained his position as ISOC deputy chief. It was two years afterward that he was fired from Isoc for allegedly involved in a plot to assassinate Mr Thaksin with a car bomb which has not exploded.
Today, General Panlop is trying to stage a comeback as acting ISOC chief on behalf of Prime Minister Yingluck who is also an ex-officio of the security agency. But today’s ISOC under the Internal Security Act B.E. 2511 is different from its predecessor tasked with combating Communist insurgency.
Under the ISA, the prime minister is the ex-officio of ISOC and the army commander-in-chief who, in this case, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, is the deputy ISOC. But the prime minister can authorize the deputy ISOC chief to act on her behalf in accordance with Section 5 of the ISA.
However, the Pheu Thai party has wanted someone else, not General Prayuth who is seen as a “thorn” in the government’s side, to do the job on behalf of the prime minister. This explained why Prime Minister Yingluck sought ad advice from the Council of State about her plan to appoint one of her advisors, General Panlop, to head the ISOC.
But the Council of State’s ruling has excluded General Panlop from taking up the job because there is no lack to back up such appointment. However, General Panlop remains unperturbed and determined to get the job through a legal loophole in Section 8 of the ISA which says that the ISOC chief or the prime minister can appoint the chief of an agency or the provincial ISOC chief to act on her behalf as the ISOC director.
Although General Panlop did not specify clearly that his intention to return to the ISOC was to play a role in the deep South, the scope of responsibility of the ISOC director covers the restive region anyway.
The government’s move pertaining to the top job at ISOC is yet another indication that the government does not have any new initiative to address the unrest problem in the deep South. Also, it shows its complete insensitivity towards the feelings of the people in the region.
The appointment of Pol Gen Kowit Wattana as deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs is another example of the government’s lack of sensitivity. General Kowit as the national police chief when suspected insurgents stormed an armoury in Narathiwat and took away more than 400 guns on January 4, 2004 which marked the beginning of the insurgency war.
Also, the government is reported to be considering appointing Pol Col Thavee Sodsong, the justice deputy permanent secretary, to head the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre, replacing Mr Panu Uthairat. Colonel Thavee was responsible for the hunting down of the arms robbers, several of them were later proven to be just scapegoats.