The Bangkok Post-Feb 6

The orchestrated “surrender” of nearly 300 men in Pattani last week is getting a rough reaction from some critics. They label it either a sham that means nothing or a misguided amnesty to admitted terrorists. The critics are wrong and the commander of the 4th Army commander is right. The welcoming “Bring People Home” ceremony won’t end the southern insurgency and isn’t meant to immediately bring peace. It’s a true indication of the extremely difficult tasks at hand.

Region commander Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich and his predecessors have been working on “Bring People Home” for a long time. Previous ceremonies have gone in a similar fashion, although smaller and under-played. The critics would do better to learn the purpose of the project, rather than try to sink it. The amnesty is no sham, but it also is no injustice.

Latter point first. The 288 men presented at last Friday’s ceremony at Sirindhorn Camp are neither leaders or “top guns” in terrorist gangs or attacks. Most — likely all — were recruited into separatist groups and attended both propaganda and military-type training sessions. None are believed to have had direct roles in attacks on civilians. Those who were actually accused of crimes were mostly charged with minor offences. Of nearly 300 who surrendered, just 39 even had a firearm.

Far from being misguided, “Bring People Home” is a focused, carefully supervised scheme. It is part of an even wider effort to encourage supporters and sympathizers of separatism to think more carefully of their actual choices. Southern Thais are of more use to families and neighbors, and themselves, as community members working for a better future.

It is certain that separatism is not an option. The Thai nation is one and will remain that way. “Bring People Home” and similar programs at various levels allow formerly radical men and women to return home and rejoin society. Those few separatists in the South responsible for atrocities and terrorism are ineligible for this project, which stresses the opportunity for a second chance.

It is telling that in addition to Royal Thai Army commander Gen Chalermchai    included family, of course. But Muslim, Buddhist and local community leaders also were present in number. Clearly, the army is on the right track with this program and others that encourage separatist sympathizers to rethink their actions and loyalty. In family and community, there is opportunity. In the separatist gangs, there is not.

Clearly, one surrender ceremony is not the end of an uprising now in its 15th year — and a separatist campaign in its sixth decade. Formal efforts to make peace with the insurgents have made little progress. But constant military pressure along with psywar tactics like Bring People Home have lowered the violence and casualties.

The motorcycle bombing at Yala’s Pimolchai market two weeks ago was a brutal, bloody reminder that the low-intensity war continues. But the reaction was an equally powerful reminder of local hopes. The day after the bomb killed three people and wounded 34 — all civilians — vendors organised a peace protest that condemned the violence. On Saturday, there was yet another encouraging step. A joint army-police raid arrested three men suspected of a separatist attack that killed a ranger volunteer a week earlier.

Progress in the deep South has been slow since the renewal of violence on Jan 5, 2004. Some 7,000 people have died as a direct result of clashes and terrorist attacks. Civilian governments and two military regimes have sought to quell the violence without destroying the region. Events like Friday’s “Bring People Home” ceremony prove there is more success than failure.

(First published in Bangkok Post –