Military continues to tighten control in Deep South despite calls to step back

After the seizure of a public hospital in the Deep South sparked outrage from both the authorities and civil groups, the Thai military said that they have to tighten control over the region amid calls from activists that they should step back for civilian protection.

Col Pramote Promin, spokesman of the 4th Region Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), on Friday, 18 March 2016, condemned the insurgent incidents in the southernmost provinces of Yala and Narathiwat on 13 March to mark the 56th anniversary of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the most active Deep South insurgent group.

The insurgent incidents in the two provinces included bombings, motorcycle bombings, shootings and the seizure of the public hospital in Cho-airong in Narathiwat to attack a military post opposite to the hospital, which left two security officers and two civilians wounded.

After the hospital siege, several civil society groups and activists condemned the militants and called for both sides to comply with International Humanitarian Law, or the so-called law of war.

IHL is a set of rules which seek to limit the effects of armed conflict. It is applied to non-international (internal) and international armed conflicts. The law, for example, forbids the killing or wounding of an enemy who surrenders or who is unable to fight; the sick and wounded must be retrieved and cared for, and medical personnel, supplies, hospitals and ambulances must all be protected. There are also rules on how parties to a conflict must treat civilians. Moreover, laws must be enacted to punish the most serious violations of human rights regarded as war crimes.

In the past, many activists to no avail suggested that the Thai state implement IHL in the region because both the Thai state and insurgent groups are parties to the conflict.

Col Pramote today rejected such calls, saying that the security services have to stay on to tighten control over the region to protect ‘vulnerable targets’ and that it would be easier for the insurgent groups to carry out attacks on civilian targets if the military withdraw security personnel from towns and villages.  

He said that in the last 12 years the insurgent groups have targeted not only security officers as many believe, but have carried out arson attacks on schools and hospitals.

The ISOC spokesman also dismissed claims by certain individuals on social media that insurgent incidents were carried out by the military themselves, saying that such individuals only wanted to distort the facts.

In response to the 13 March insurgent incident, the human rights network in the Deep South, consisting of the Duayjai Group, Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Patani Human Rights Network, on Tuesday said in a joint statement that although the insurgents did not kill or injure any patient or medical personnel, the siege of hospital per se is obviously unacceptable.

It further stated that despite the fact that Thailand has not recognized the three southernmost provinces as a non-international armed conflict area, International Humanitarian Law (IHL) should be observed by both the independence movements and the Thai state. It urged both sides to refrain from attacking or laying siege to not only medical facilities, but also educational institutions, religious sites and prayer sites, and other public facilities.  

Don Pathan, a founding member of Patani Forum, a Deep South peace advocacy group, wrote in an article published in The Nation, Outrage over Hospital Raid Reveals Military Hypocrisy, that the recent incident has provided a pretext for the Thai state to attack the armed insurgents who continue to discredit unofficial peace talks between the Thai state and MARA Patani, the umbrella organization of the independence movements.  

“Insurgents are accused of violating human rights principles; meanwhile Thai security forces continue to place monks and children in the line of fire,” wrote Don.

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