Thai minister says better military strategy needed

By Ambika Ahuja BANGKOK, Thailand, AP

A more comprehensive military strategy must be instituted to quell violence in southern Thailand, Defense Minister Boonrod Somtat said Thursday, as the country’s leadership considered ways to head off a growing sectarian conflict.

A recent string of brutal attacks targeting civilians has triggered fears that Islamic insurgents may succeed in triggering all-out conflict between the region’s Muslim and Buddhist communities.

Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have been the scene of an Islamic insurgency that has led to more than 2,000 deaths in the past three years. Muslims form the majority in the area, but have long felt they are treated as second-class citizens in the Buddhist-dominated country.

The violence continued unabated on Thursday, as two roadside bombs were detonated in Narathiwat’s Sungai Padi district, wounding one soldier, police said.

When military-appointed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont took office after a coup in September, he pledged to make peace in the south a priority and to moderate the previous government’s iron-fisted policies. Ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who tried to solve the crisis by force, was accused of inflaming the situation.

“Along with reconciliation efforts, we also need to adjust our military strategies to be more comprehensive,” said Defense Minister Boonrod.

Better coordination among military, police and civilian personnel is essential for operations to be successful, as is more efficient mobilization of forces, he said. Both Surayud and Boonrod said there are still not adequate numbers of security forces in the area.