Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha believes entering dialogue with only certain militant groups might have been the reason behind the devastating bomb blasts in Yala and Songkhla on Saturday.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra inspects the blast site at Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel and shopping mall in Songkhla’s Hat Yai. A car bomb in the hotel’s underground carpark killed three people and wounded several hundred on Saturday. THITI WANNAMONTHAGen Prayuth did not rule out the possibility of informal talks with insurgents, but said leaving any out of the loop would intensify the violence.
"[Informal] talks are not wrong, but if you do not talk with all of [the insurgents], violence will happen," he said.
"Each insurgent faction is vying to become the core faction of the southern insurgents by instigating violence to show their capabilities and their leadership and to attract other groups to join them."
Gen Prayuth has told Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra there are several insurgent factions, including drug trafficking gangs and contraband gangs. Even separatists have several factions.
The army chief was responding to a report that Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), sent a team for informal talks with certain separatist leaders in Malaysia.
The move was later confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa, who oversees national security.
"I don't want to call it 'a negotiation' because the government will never negotiate with insurgents. But secretly, Pol Col Thawee in the capacity of a civilian, sent representatives to hear what they want," Mr Yutthasak said.
Gen Prayuth along with Gen Yutthasak yesterday visited Yala, Songkhla and Pattani after car bombs in Yala and Hat Yai in Songkhla on Saturday killed 14 people.
Gen Prayuth said many small independent insurgent factions are operating in the three border provinces.
Security footage unveiled by Songkhla police shows two suspects walking not far from the scene of Saturday’s blast in the basement carpark of the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel in Hat Yai.He insisted the security authorities know who they are fighting against and know there are not many of them, but their use of guerilla tactics is frustrating.
There are no connections between the southern insurgents and international terrorists, he added.
Gen Prayuth said insurgents in the region are mostly Thai Muslims who are the children of former insurgents belonging to the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) which later splintered into the BRN Coordinate.
"We believe they have about 300 leaders and previously had around 10,000 supporters. However, their strength at present is around 4,000-5,000 following arrests and subsequent charges by the authorities," said Gen Prayuth.
The aim of the BRN Coordinate is to escalate violence in the region to attract attention from overseas, he said.
Gen Prayuth has instructed security officers to stay alert around the clock and step up security checks on suspicious vehicles.
"The problem is that whenever security is lax, violence will often ensue. Insurgent groups are still active and ready for action," he said.
Gen Yutthasak chaired a meeting of security agencies in Pattana yesterday. He stressed the need for the military, police and the SBPAC to ensure greater unity in their operations, come up with a zoning plan to cope with insurgent violence, and to set up rapid response units for emergency situations.
Gen Yutthasak said the group responsible for Saturday's car bomb attacks are a hardline faction of the BRN Coordinate who disagreed with members of the old BRN group.
"The new group wants to continue to sow violence while the old group wants negotiations, but it has little say," Gen Yutthasak said.
Ms Yingluck yesterday visited the blast site at the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel in Hat Yai. Three people were killed in the hotel blaze and more than 350 injured. She said security and prevention measures will be stepped up in the area with more CCTV cameras installed.
"The Arintharat commando unit will also be sent to support security operations in the lower South," Ms Yingluck added.
A security source said the insurgent group responsible for the car bombs in Yala was previously routed by state authorities but it had now managed to regroup and coordinate efforts to incite violence in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
The group is led by Sahudin Tohjehmah, who is active in Yala's Raman district. In carrying out the attacks in Yala, the group received support from another insurgent group from Yala's Than To district, which is led by Abdullah Pula, another suspect, a security source said.
The source added the bombing at the hotel in Hat Yai was believed to be the work of Masore Dueramae, who is suspected of being the mastermind behind several bombings in Pattani.
He is thought to have made the bomb and drove and parked the car at the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel.
Songkhla police have released footage of two men suspected of carrying out the bomb attack at the hotel.
The suspects, both about 170cm tall, were filmed walking upstairs from one of the building's five underground parking floors, Level B4, which is close to the spot where the explosion took place, and exiting through the entrance ramp of the carpark.