BANGKOK — Thailand's military is seeking to increase the number of guns and armed volunteers in the southern border provinces, where Islamic insurgents have been waging a bloody separatist campaign for the past decade.
The Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) has approved a plan to dispatch 2,700 submachine guns to the armed "ranger" volunteer units in the Muslim-dominated provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani, a spokesperson said yesterday.
ISOC will also ask the government to recruit 2,000 more policemen for the restive region, Col. Banpot Poonpian said. He said he hoped the posts would be filled by 1,000 volunteers from the fourteen southern provinces and 1,000 from the rest of the country.
"We want the process to be concluded by 1 June 2015," he said.
Col. Banpot added that the military is planning to establish a new "Navy Marine Ranger" unit to combat the insurgency by 2016, with a budget of more than 1.7 billion baht. He did not elaborate what role the new unit will take in the region.
Tens of thousands of soldiers, policemen, marines, and armed volunteers are already stationed in the three southern border provinces, known as the "Deep South," to stem the tide of separatist violence that has claimed nearly 6,000 lives since 2004.
Human rights activists have criticised the military's occasionally heavy-handed approach to stamping out violence in the region, as well as their reliance on rangers, many of whom are volunteers armed by the authorities.
Last month, an army ranger in Narathiwat province confessed to killing a 14-year-old Muslim boy and then planting a gun in his hand to frame the teenager as an insurgent.
The government toppled in the 22 May coup attempted to start peace talks with one of the militant groups in 2013, but the effort was stalled after anti-government protests in Bangkok debilitated former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration and paved the way for the coup.
On Monday, Thailand’s new military government vowed to bring about peace in the region within a year.
Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani are pre-dominantly Muslim, a stark to the rest of the country that is dominated by Buddhists. The Islamic insurgents are believed to be aiming to revive the independent Sultanate that existed for hundreds of years before it was incorporated into modern-day Thailand in early 20th century.