Defectors set demands
Safety, employment and the revocation of arrest warrants are three key demands proposed by a group of some 90 militants who have wanted to give up their armed struggle against the Thai state and to pursue a normal life.
The group met with Lt-Gen Udomchai Thammasarorach, commander of the 4th Army Region, at the Office of the Provincial Islamic Committee in Narathiwat province on Tuesday September 11. Before then, they were reported to be active in Si Sakhon, Ra-ngae and Ruesoh districts with several of them being slapped with arrest warrants issued by virtue of the Emergency Decree and Criminal Procedure Code.
The group’s coordinator, Mukda Seekaji, said that these militants who had joined the separatist movement for a long time became disillusioned with the movement and wanted to give up their struggle so that they could pursue a normal life with their families.
However, he noted that there is one obstacle standing on their way – that is the arrest warrants – and they wanted to discuss with Lt-Gen Udomchai to find out how the government could address the issue.
Mukda claimed that there are still hundreds of militants who have wanted to return homes to be with their families and are now waiting to see how the government would be of any assistance to tackle the arrest warrants issue.
The defection of the group on Tuesday was attributable to the "Bring the People Home" policy initiated by Lt-Gen Udomchai.
The 4th army commander who was present with the defectors in Narathiwat promised the Emergency Decree would be lifted once the unrest situation has improved and all the arrest warrants issued by virtue of this special security law would be automatically revoked.
"Personally, I believe that some sort of peace will be restored pretty soon although there are still some misguided militants who will continue to incite violence," said Lt-Gen Udomchai, stressing his meeting with the defectors was not a negotiation but was a frank discussion to bring about peace.
Meanwhile, Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha hailed the mass defection represented a big step forward in the effort to bring about peace in the region that he could not talk until Tuesday. He said that talks had been going on all along through several channels to convince the militants to turn a new leaf.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, meanwhile, said he had nothing to do with the mass defection. But he disclosed that he had been approached by another group of militants, numbering 42, who offered to defect on the condition that all the criminal charges against them be dropped but he turned it down.
Among the 93 defectors who showed up were some leading figures namely Wae Ali Copter Waji who was believed to be one of the masterminds in the daring raid of an army armoury in Cho Airong district of Narathiwat on January 4, 2004 in which 417 war weapons were stolen and four soldiers killed, Abdul Rosa Karde who was wanted on several security-related cases and who was a negotiator in a prisoners’ riot in Narathiwat last year.
The Isra news agency had an opportunity to talk with some of the defectors who were members of the RKK, the movement’s fighting unit. The followings are their accounts.
"People in the movement promised to take good care of us. But when I was sick from prolonged exposure to the chemicals used to make bombs, they didn’t take care of me. I was admitted to the hospital and recovered from the illness. After leaving the hospital, I was arrested and detained for six days before I was given a bail. I escaped to Malaysia and met my woman there. She later became pregnant and asked me to give up the fighting," said Manavee, the bomb maker.
"When any of us were arrested, people in the movement would say it was just a holiday because they didn’t have to do anything. But who would want to spend holidays in prison? The movement has never helped us," he added.
"Our violent activities have never raised the livelihood of the people. When a bomb was detonated, the villagers could not go into their rubber plantation for two weeks. What did we get from that incident? We didn’t. Nor did the villagers. If we did not shoot or set off a bomb, the villagers could harvest the latex from their rubber trees," said Bakri, another RKK member.
Abdul Rosa Karde, meanwhile, said the topmost priority issue is that the government must be sincere to resolve the unrest problem. "Everybody wants justice. I used to spend time in prison but I believe in the judicial process. The problem is that before the judicial process, there are other processes which are unjust, false accusations and etc."
Abdul Roso said he had trust in the court but he didn’t trust the police. He complained that in many cases, arrest warrants were issued against the suspects simply because they were implicated by the others resulting to many suspects to run away to Malaysia to seek refuge.
He himself was arrested and detained on five criminal cases but he was acquitted by the court of all the cases against him.
He said that all the defectors wanted safety for their lives and their families and they also wanted employment. "In my case, I spent three years behind bars during the trials. Finally, I was acquitted from all the charges. But what do I get?," he asked.