Some 3,000 “core militants” received military training in Libya before joining the Islamic insurgency in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south, a top general said Wednesday.
“The militants have advanced over the last 20 years, as the core members went to receive military training in Libya for four years, just like our soldiers train,” General Panlop Pinmanee told a seminar of 100 security officials.
“When they returned they became the chief operators in the south. Those militants have (the) same capacity as our commandos. There are 1,000 of them in each province and all together there are 30,000 sympathisers across three provinces,” he said.
Panlop, an advisor to Thailand’s defence minister and head of the Internal Security command, which oversees military operations on Thai soil, said the military has so far proved powerless to stop the insurgency.
“We cannot do anything,” he said.
He has become a highly controversial figure in the military response to the insurgency, after he ordered soldiers to storm the historic Krue Se mosque on April 28 last year, resulting in the deaths of 32 militants.
Since the storming of Krue Se, which came on a day of coordinated attacks by militants against Thai forces throughout the three Muslim provinces, Panlop said the fighting has escalated into full guerrilla warfare that has killed or wounded 2,000 people.
“The situation has gotten worse. Before the Krue Se incident, there were 187 so-called red-zone villages, infested with militants. But since that incident, there are 247 red-zone villages, and 2,000 people have died or been wounded,” he said.
Panlop proposed creating 38 small, rapid-response units based in areas that have suffered the most attacks.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasathidya promised to release free copies of the government’s so-called “white paper” on major incidents in the insurgency, including Krue Se.
The white papers detail what the government knew about the militants’ plans and how security forces responded.
“The white paper in each incident will be released this year and handed out across the country to the public for free. It will educate the public and make them more positive” about authorities’ handling of the unrest, he said.
Nearly 1,000 people have been killed since January 2004 in increasingly deadly unrest in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south along the Malaysian border.
Analysts and authorities say the almost daily shootings, bombings and arson attacks in the southern provinces are a result of a mix of Islamic separatists, organised criminals and local corruption.
While Thailand is mainly Buddhist, most of the population in the southern provinces are ethnic Malay, who believe Bangkok discriminates against them because they are Muslim.