South's 'safety zone' rules revealed; emergency extended

'No more than three killings per month, per zone'

Maj Gen Sitthi Trakulwong (in uniform), secretary to the Thai negotiating team, led the media briefing on Thursday. (Bangkok Post photo)

Government peace negotiators revealed Thursday that their recent "safety zone" deal with the Malaysian Mara Patani group will permit separatists up to three killings per month in each zone before sanctions are invoked.

Maj Gen Sitthi Trakulwong, secretary to the team, briefed the media at Royal Thai Armed Forces headquarters.

He said that when a violent incident occurs inside a safety zone, the perpetrators of the violence must be identified by the government or by Mara Patani.

Otherwise, after the third death in a one-month period, the area will be delisted as a safety zone, he said.

The three-killing rule every month will apply to each of the five safety zones, he said.

In a separate development, the government extended the draconian emergency decree across the deep South for the 47th time since it was enacted by then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on July 16, 2005.

The "temporary" measure is similar to martial law, and allows arrests without warrant, holding suspects indefinitely in isolation and gives full immunity to state security officials.

The decree currently applies to Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani provinces, except for Pattani's Mae Lan district.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the cabinet believed it was necessary to extend the decree in the three southernmost provinces for another three months, as violence remains a problem, said spokesman Col Yuthanam Phetmuang,

The violence continued Thursday, as a man was killed and his elder sister seriously wounded in a gun attack - ironically in Mae Lan district.

An unknown number of attackers shot and killed Hassanai Chaiphan and his elder sister Rungratana, both employees of the Provincial Electricity Authority, as they were reading meters at Moo 5 village, tambon Muang Tia.

The attack was in broad daylight, about 9 am.

The attackers stole the victims' motorcycle to help in their getaway.

More on 'safety zones'

The government-provided update to the media was given by the official negotiating team with Mara Patani, the Malaysian group claiming to be an umbrella body speaking for insurgent groups in the deep South. Its actual power remains untested.

Mara Patani has recently condemned terrorist-type attacks in the South, including a gruesome ambush-killing last month of an entire family of three adults and an 8-year-old schoolboy.

Maj Gen Sitthi directed the media update detailing work after the two sides have agreed to set up safety zones in five districts in the three southernmost provinces.

Also present were Chatchai Bangchuad, a director in charge of security strategy at the National Security Council, Thawatchai Rittagorn, a deputy director of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and Capt Jakkrapong Apimahatham, director in charge of policy and planning at the Internal Security Operations Command's Region 4 forward command.

Maj Gen Sitthi said that the criteria to designate a safety zone is that violent incidents frequently happen in the area, and that the area is where the Mara Patani can control its operational units.

An assessment team will be set up soon in each local area designated as possible safety zones before proposing them to the negotiation team for approval.

Each local assessment team will be made up of state officials, local residents, and representatives of the Mara Patani group, Maj Gen Sitthi said.

He said he expects the choice of specific safety zones to be completed by next month's Songkran holiday and said it was the first step to work together and try to build trust among state officials, local residents, and "those who hold different views", the newest term for the separatists who launched their violent campaign for independence 57 years ago this week.

Another three months will be needed to prepare the chosen areas and three more months will also be spent on setting up the zones, Maj Gen Sitthi said.

Mr Thawathcai, the NIA deputy director, stressed the need for local authorities to strictly control local areas to ensure better safety and to close any loopholes that might allow insurgent group to commit violence.

Capt Jakkrapong also noted that some violent incidents in the deep South sometimes were linked to conflict among local politicians, rather than insurgent groups.

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