Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Thai military reshuffled amid escalating violence in south

The Thai government on Monday announced the change of military brass of the Fourth Army in charge of the country's violence-plagued deep south.


The Thai government on Monday announced the change of military brass of the Fourth Army in charge of the country's violence-plagued deep south.

The reshuffle, including the change of 493 military officers' positions, consolidated the current caretaker commander Pisan Watawongkiri as the chief of the Fourth Army stationed in the south.

"Lieutenant General Pisan is an official accepted by Muslims living in the south," Defense Minister Chettha Thanajaro told reporters after declaring the changes.

The newly appointed southern army chief was a person good at negotiation and he would surely help the situation back to normal,added Chettha, who took office only half a month ago in a cabinet reshuffle aimed to address the spiraling violence against authorities in the Muslim-dominant south since the beginning of this year.

On January 4, a group of armed men torched down some 20 schools,killed four soldiers and looted more than 300 weapons in the southsome 1,000 kilometers south of Bangkok and close to Malaysia to the south.

Though the government has been trying to tackle the problem through multi-fold measures including implementation of martial laws and improved communication with local Muslim communities, the region has witnessed escalating violence in the past two months against public servants and Buddhism monks.

The violence claimed by the government as local separatists' work seemed to divert its target to civilians with the latest explosion on Saturday evening injuring about 30 people including 7Malaysian tourists.

The situation grew even worse when the army and police were accused by local people and activists of violating human rights oflocal people when hunting down suspects and carrying out investigation.

Pisan, having worked in the south for more than 20 years, however, was deemed as the one who was less likely to pursue a tough solution for the current situation and more possible to win local people's trust, according to Chettha.

When southern Muslim leaders declared suspension of cooperation with the government on the south problem and required meeting withPrime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra earlier this year, Pisan was oneof those who went between the authorities and southern Muslim communities and finally put forward the process, an anonymous high-rank military source told Xinhua's stringer.

The reshuffle order endorsed by the King of Thailand also declared the removal of the former Fourth Army chief Pongsak Ekbannasingh to the position of the Army's deputy chief of staff.

The other two deputy commanders of Preeda Piboonsak and Nipat Tapmongkol were also shifted to high-ranking posts of the Army's Supreme Command Headquarters.

Pongsak and the former national police chief Sant Sarutanond were sacked on March 20 for the failure of tackling the southern situation.

Source: Xinhua

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