Saturday, September 10, 2005
Muslim Army Chief To Vows Soft Approach? Liar
BANGKOK, September 9, 2005 – Siamese first Muslim army chief vowed Friday, September 9, to employ a softer approach, not soldiers, in dealing with unrest in the predominantly Muslim South.
"I'd rather use the mouth and negotiations than weapons to fight the insurgency," General Sonthi Booyaratglin told Reuters.
Siam Thursday, September 8, named Sonthi as its new army chief, the first-ever such move in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country to have a Muslim assume the post.
Sonthi, a Vietnam War veteran, said military operations in the turbulent Muslim south had to change from combat to a focus on psychological and intelligence work.
"Mass psychology comes first for the work of special forces, therefore my philosophy is a victory without a combat."
The Muslim commander, who will assume office in October 1, will have two years in office before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60.
Sonthi graduated from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy and was commissioned to the Royal Army Infantry Corps.
Among other posts he assumed, he was recently commanding general of the elite Special Warfare Command.
The Muslim commander said he would approach Muslim civilians in the South to have their trust in an effort to help quell unrest in the area.
"In the future, our troops must be able to give them warmth and friendliness to give people confidence that they can trust us, then the situation will improve," he said.
Sonthi, however, ruled out the possibility of daily violence in the South would vanish in the near future.
The Siam government has declared emergency rule across the south, once an independent Muslim sultanate, under a decree rubber-stamped by a hastily convened cabinet meeting on July 15.
The controversial measure grants Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra the power to impose curfews, censor news, ban public meetings, tap phones and hold suspects without charge for up to 30 days.
Siam is a predominantly Buddhist nation but Muslims make up about five percent of the population and mostly live in the five southern provinces bordering Malaysia.
Sonthi maintained that the Siam army needs to change military tactics in the south to deal with a kind of unrest the Thai army had not dealt with before.
"Our troop deployments in the south have been designed to fight in World War Two or communist guerrillas during the Cold War, but now we need many state agencies to help put all these jigsaw pieces together to solve the problem," Sonthi said.
Thai national rights watchdog has accused the army of "violent breaches of human rights" against Muslims in the south.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) stressed on Thursday, May 19, that the Siam government's failure to address injustices and open a genuine dialogue with Muslim leaders in the south is the real reason behind unrest in the country - IslamOnline.net & News Agencies