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07BANGKOK1675 SOUTHERN VIOLENCE: THE RISING USE OF PARAMILITARY AND NON-TRADITIONAL FORCES

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“101284”,”3/21/2007 8:59″,”07BANGKOK1675″,”Embassy Bangkok”,

 

“CONFIDENTIAL”,”05BANGKOK2837|07BANGKOK1572|07BANGKOK1675″,”VZCZCXRO0960

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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5728

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 3943

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 6916

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RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 001675

 

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DEPT FOR EAP/MLS

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/20/2017

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, PINS, PINR, ASEC, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: SOUTHERN VIOLENCE: THE RISING USE OF PARAMILITARY

AND NON-TRADITIONAL FORCES

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 01572 (SECTARIAN PASSIONS RISING)

B. IIR 6 895 0136 06 (IRREGULAR RANGER UNITS)

C. 05 BANGKOK 2837 (QUEEN’S SPEECH)

 

Classified By: Political Counselor Susan M. Sutton. Reason 1.4 (b,d)

 

1. (C) Summary. With the potential for sectarian strife in

the deep South increasing, both RTG leaders and private

citizens in the South are working to boost security through

the expansion of non-traditional security units ranging from

irregular paramilitaries to private militias. While

increased manpower may boost security in some areas in the

short term, the use of these poorly trained and managed

units–which are overwhelmingly Buddhist–could lead to

human-rights abuses and even worse government relations with

the Muslim majority in the South. Indeed, while many

South-watchers give credit to the security forces for

avoiding overly harsh government crackdowns like those that

occurred in 2004-5, many are concerned that the proliferation

of loosely controlled groups of armed Buddhists in the South

could result in even more violence. End Summary.

 

2. (SBU) Following the 14 March (ref A) series of attacks in

the deep South that drew nationwide attention, Council on

National Security (CNS) and Royal Thai Army (RTA) chief GEN

Sonthi Boonyaratglin traveled to the troubled provinces on

March 19. After meeting with local leaders, GEN Sonthi told

reporters that the RTG is considering expanding the use of

curfews (currently in place in two Yala districts) and

reiterated his August 2006 call for an additional 30 “Ranger”

companies to be trained and deployed to the troubled South.

These forces–each Ranger company consists of approximately

76 Rangers, 14 regular Army non-commissioned officers (NCOs)

and a handful of regular Army officers–would augment the

30-40,000 soldiers and police currently operating among the

1.8 million residents of the South.

 

3. (C) The 14 March attacks–and a subsequent attack on

workers at a Royal project on March 19–prompted an

expression of concern from the palace. In a speech over the

weekend, an aide to Queen Sirikit explained that the Queen is

“deeply concerned” about the violence in the South and does

not want to see any more innocent civilians–whether Buddhist

or Muslim–killed. According to this aide, the Queen has

vowed to do what ever it takes to help protect local

residents. (Note: the Queen has provided funding for

self-defense training and even weapons to villagers in the

South, and we expect these efforts to increase. End Note.)

In late 2004 and early 2005, the Queen delivered remarks

(ref C) that were widely interpreted as calls to action to

defend Buddhists in the South.

 

WHEN IS A RANGER NOT A RANGER?

——————————

 

4. (C) While often confused in press reports with Thai

Special Forces (similar to the U.S. Army Rangers), Thai

“Rangers” or Thahaan Praan, are irregular paramilitary forces

led by regular Army NCOs and officers (see ref B for DAO

reporting on the structure and training for Ranger units).

Rangers are often former conscripts who are given rudimentary

refresher training, light weapons and distinctive uniforms,

and deployed subordinate to regular Army units in trouble

areas, such as the Burma border. There are approximately ten

Ranger companies currently operating in the South, but XXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX says that the RTA does not have

a clear mission for them. As he put it, the regular Army

troops are too scared to patrol in most areas, “what are the

Rangers going to do?”

 

5. (C) The Rangers have a poor reputation. Many enlist due

to lack of employment opportunities or the threat of jail

time–a western contact who has worked with them on the Burma

border calls them “criminals in uniform.” Given the brevity

of their training and uneven oversight by regular Army

officers, discipline is often a problem. In an incident that

Malay-Muslim contacts still cite, a Ranger stopped a young

Malay-Muslim male from a prominent family at a roadblock in

 

BANGKOK 00001675 002 OF 003

 

the South in 2004. Heated words were exchanged, which

prompted the Ranger to knock the Malay-Muslim man to the

ground, place his Army boot on the young man’s head and shoot

him at point blank range, killing him. Malay-Muslim contacts

refer to this incident as a perfect illustration of the

attitude and actions of the predominantly Buddhist security

forces in the South.

 

6. (C) In fact, Malay-Muslims in the South have protested the

placement of Rangers near their villages–most recently on

March 20 in Saba Yoi, the site of recent sectarian

tensions–claiming that Rangers have been behind attacks on

Malay-Muslims at night. While Army spokesmen have extolled

the use of locally recruited Rangers as force multipliers for

regular Army units–claiming “they know the area”–few

recruits appear to be Malay-Muslims. As Davis told us

recently, the Rangers are often rural Buddhists from the

Northeast who want to crack Muslim heads, or Buddhists from

the deep South who want revenge for personal losses. In a

local press report on the new Ranger companies last year, one

local recruit–whose uncle and nephew were injured by

militants–was quoted as saying, “I was born here and grew up

here. I must live here. I won’t run away but will fight.”

 

7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX told us

that he is worried about the potential for abuses by the

Rangers. According to XXXXX, he trusts that regular Army

commanders in the South will refrain from harsh tactics, but

their control over the Rangers is weak. Indeed, XXXXX says

that he has already heard unconfirmed reports of Ranger units

abusing locals in a recent raid on a religious school.

 

THE VILLAGE SCOUTS

——————

 

8. (C) While Ranger units are already active in the deep

South, we have yet to see the use of the volunteer “Village

Scouts” there. The Village Scouts are a national,

all-volunteer, civilian, ultra-nationalist Buddhist

organization that played a major role in the

counter-communist campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed,

Village Scouts were involved in a number of human rights

abuses, including the infamous massacre of leftist students

in Bangkok in October 1976. South-watchers have been

concerned for some time that the Scouts would become involved

in the fight against the separatists. In April 2005, Queen

Sirikit–who is the honorary leader and patron of the

group–told Scouts in a nationally televised speech to “pay

attention to the South” and take their pledge to defend the

country seriously. While the Scouts have not yet played a

role in the southern violence, the recent spate of

high-profile attacks may finally inspire them to get

involved, with nasty consequences. On March 19, an estimated

2,000 Scouts marched in Bangkok, calling for peace in the

South. Chulalongkorn Professor–and adviser to the

Army–Panitan Wattanayakorn warned in February that the

mobilization of Buddhist defense groups like the Village

Scouts could lead to “civil war.”

 

PRIVATE MILITIAS

—————-

 

9. (C) Specific numbers are hard to come by, but press

reporting and our contacts suggest that some villages are

organizing private defense forces–sometimes using weapons

provided by the Ministry of Interior. (Note: the

International Herald Tribune ran a front page story on this

issue on March 20. End Note.) Given the climate of fear in

the South, which has driven many villages to turn inward and

bar outsiders, in hope of avoiding involvement in the

conflict, the creation of such forces would be the next step.

While the effectiveness of these units in keeping the peace

is questionable–previous attempts to arm and organize

“village defense volunteers” has led to the assassination of

some volunteers and the coordinated theft of their

weapons–the expansion of these forces increases the prospect

for retaliatory clashes between individual villages.

 

BANGKOK 00001675 003 OF 003

 

COMMENT

——-

 

10. (C) It is only natural for local villagers to try and arm

themselves in defense against the violence that is gripping

the South, given that RTG security officials have been unable

to roll back the “climate of fear” and provide security for

them. The proliferation of armed groups under only nominal

government control in a violent region simmering with

separatist passions is cause for strong concern, however.

Even more disheartening is the RTG’s apparent focus on

expanding the number of paramilitary Rangers in the South.

According to XXXXXXXXXXX when he recently pressed an RTA

officer on the thinking behind this plan, the RTA official

admitted that using Rangers was “cheaper” than recruiting new

regular units and redeploying regular Army units from other

regions was a non-starter. As XXX put it, isn’t the South

important enough to justify the cost?

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 1:02 am

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