More para-military rangers for the deep South
As part of the government’s plan to gradually withdraw the number of regular troops in the three southernmost provinces plus some parts of Songkhla.
The Abhisit government in early May this year approved the Defence Ministry’s request for about 2.7 billion baht budget to set up four regiments of some 6,000-man para-military ranger force to be based in the strife-torn region.
The fund will spread across three years, starting this year with 18 million baht to be allocated from this year’s budget and the rest of the fund will come from the budgets of 2012 and 2013 fiscal years. On top of that, an operating fund amounting to 688 million baht a year will also be required to maintain the additional ranger force in Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and certain districts of Songkhla province.
An informed source in the Internal Security Operations Command based in the Fourth Army Region said that the additional ranger force would replace troops from the first, second and third army regions who are considered “outsiders” who would be gradually pulled back to their bases in Bangkok, Sakhon Nakhon and Phitsanuloke provinces respectively.
The regular troop replacement is a ten-year plan which envisages that situation in the deep South will gradually improve allowing regular troops from the first, second and third army regions to be pulled out in ten years time leaving behind only troops from the fourth army region and the ranger force to carry on the duties to deal with the insurgency.
Several academics and community leaders in the deep South have increasingly voiced their calls for troop pullback, hoping that it will help improve the situation.
The new rangers will be recruited among male adults in southern provinces, preferably in the three southernmost provinces, because they understand the local traditions and customs better than people from the other regions such as the North or the Northeast.
There are currently seven ranger regiments each numbering 1,489 men and women, based in the deep South. They form the front-line combat force performing high-risk duties such as riding on convoy to provide protection to teachers, guarding outposts and checkpoints along with regular troops and conducting search and destroy missions to hunt down militants.
The seven ranger regiments are: the 41th regiment based in Raman district of Yala; 42nd regiment responsible for operations in four districts of Songkhla province; the 43rd regiment responsible for operations in six districts of Pattani, including Muang, Nong Chik, Mae Larn, Yarang and Yaring; the 44th regiment responsible for operations in Pattani’s districts which border Narathiwat; the 45th regiment responsible for operations in Cho Airong district of Narathiwat; the 46th regiment based in Muang district of Narathiwat and the 47th regiment responsible for operations in Yala province.
Apart from the seven regiments of fighting force, there are also 467 female rangers whose main duties involve propaganda and development work.
Para-military rangers are civilians, most of them from poor families, who volunteer into the service which is risky and low pay. They are given a basic salary of about 5,000 baht a month plus a daily stipend of 68 baht which is usually meant for three meals of food. The fixed salary is mostly sent to their families in the upcountry.
Unlike the army officers who command the rangers at different levels from regiment down to platoon, the rangers have no ranks and their sacrifices are not widely recognized. Often, they were accused of misusing their power against the local Malay Muslims.
Because of the low daily stipend, the main dishes of most rangers are nam prik or spicy shrimp sauce and vegetables as they cannot afford other more nutritious food or meat. Attempts are now being made by their army superiors to increase their stipend to 120 baht a day.
Photo by : Abdullah Wangnhi