New key players in the Deep South and prospect for peace talk
The governors of two southernmost provinces of Yala and Narathiwat are among 34 high-ranking interior officials reshuffled as endorsed by the cabinet on November 15.
Narathiwat governor Thanon Vechakornkanont is to become governor of Samut Songkram while Yala governor Krisda Boonrach is to be moved to neighbouring Songkhla. Pattani governor Niphon Narapitakkul has already retired from the service as of September 30.
Although the cabinet has not appointed replacements for the governor’s posts in Yala and Narathiwat, it was speculated that the vacancies would be filled up the incumbent deputy governors. As for Pattani, the new governor is Mr Thira Mintharasak, the current governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Mr Thira is not regarded as a stranger for the strife-torn Deep South. He used to serve as the governor Yala before Mr Krisda and he is also a native of Pattani.
Widely known among the locals as Governor Day, Mr Thira used to serve as assistant district chief of several districts of Pattani, namely Muang, Mai Kaen, Sai Buri, Yaring, Panareh, Yarang and Thung Yang Daeng. In 1998, he was named director of the Security Coordination Department of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre. Three years afterward, he was appointed district chief officer of Ra-ngae district of Narathiwat, district chief officer of Betong district of Yala for a year before he was named assistant governor of Pattani. Two years later, he served as deputy governor Narathiwat, then deputy governor of Pattani and became Yala governor in 2006 before he was transferred to Nakhon Si Thammarat as the governor.
Mr Thira became the first Muslim governor for the Deep South when he was named governor of Yala. Later on, another Muslim official, Mr Niphon Narapitakkul, was named governor of Pattani.
Besides the change of governors for the three southernmost provinces, the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre also recently had its new secretary-general, Pol Col Thavee Sodsong who formerly served as head of the Department of Special Investigation during the Thaksin administration.
On the separatist movement’s side, the Pattani United Liberation Organisation or Pulo also has recently named a new leader, Mr Kasturi Mahkota, former spokesman of the organization who played a key role in secret peace talks with someThai security authorities – a claim that the Thai government and Thai military have officially denied.
However, an informed source said that the forward command of the Fourth Army Region’s Internal Security Operations Command branch office believed that Mr Kasturi’s appointment as Pulo president might have been pressured by the government of a neighbouring country as it has wanted a peaceful settlement to end the conflict.
The source said that the local Isoc office was more receptive to the change at Pulo and might be more willing to have talks with the organization although it still believes that Pulo has no control over the new breed of insurgents such as the RKK Cordinate which has been blamed for most of the violence in the region.
The same source said that it was belived by local security officers that the recent surge of bombing attacks in the region were meant to draw the attention of the Pheu Thai-led government which has been criticized of being ignorant to the problem in the Deep South. Also, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has not yet set foot in the region after three months in the office and there is no sign yet about when she will visit the region.
There seems to be a sign, at least, that talk with the separatists, Pulo in particular, may be possible in the future, said the source, adding that Pol Col Thavee, the new secretary-general of SBPAC, recently met at an undisclosed location with Lt-Gen Kanit Muensawat, former chief of Thai-Malaysian coordinating committee who used to play a role in peace talk with Pulo.
Peace talk with Pulo may put pressure with the RKK insurgents to scale down their violent activities, said the source.
However, former deputy commander of 4th Army Region Lt-Gen Samret Srirai said that from his past experiences of having talked with several defected separatists and insurgents, there have been no clear sign that their leaders have wanted peace talk with the Thai government or military.