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10BANGKOK366 SOUTHERN THAILAND UPDATE: ROLE OF PARAMILITARY AND VILLAGE DEFENSE FORCE MILITIAS

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“248272”,”2/11/2010 8:02″,”10BANGKOK366″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,\

 

“05BANGKOK2541|07BANGKOK1572|08BANGKOK3094|09BANGKOK1508|09BANGKOK2307

 

|09BANGKOK233|09BANGKOK3115|10BANGKOK147″,”VZCZCXRO1032

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INFO RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS

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RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0323

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 7634″,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BANGKOK 000366

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP, NSC FOR WALTON

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/08/2020

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PINR, PREL, PTER, TH

SUBJECT: SOUTHERN THAILAND UPDATE: ROLE OF PARAMILITARY AND

VILLAGE DEFENSE FORCE MILITIAS

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 00147 (MOSQUE SHOOTER TURNS SELF IN)

B. 09 BANGKOK 3115 (RED RALLY PEACEFUL)

C. 09 BANGKOK 2307 (NOT ALL VIOLENCE INSURGENTS)

D. 09 BANGKOK 1508 (JUNE 8 MOSQUE ATTACK)

E. 09 BANGKOK 233 (ROHINGYA BOAT PEOPLE)

F. 08 BANGKOK 3094 (THAI – CAMBODIAN CLASH)

G. 07 BANGKOK 1572 (SECTARIAN PASSIONS RISING)

H. 05 BANGKOK 2541 (NATURE OF SOUTHERN TROUBLES)

 

BANGKOK 00000366 001.2 OF 005

 

Classified By: DCM JAMES F. ENTWISTLE, REASON 1.4 (B) AND (D)

 

1. (C) Summary: A variety of government, academic, and civil

society contacts we engaged in Thailand\’s violence-affected

southern provinces in late December presented consistent

perceptions about the various paramilitary groups affiliated

with military or interior/police structures and operating in

Thailand\’s Deep South. The RTG has armed tens of thousands

of people in such ad-hoc defense forces to augment the 15,000

police and 20,000 regular army troops assigned to the three

southernmost provinces since the resumption of a higher level

of violence in January 2004. Our interlocutors helped

clarify the chains of command, reporting lines, duties, and

funding for the government-sponsored groups in the

southernmost three provinces and the effect they have on the

security situation; it appears that the vast majority of

militia members are Muslim. Locals told us they were able to

easily differentiate between the various groups and hold them

responsible or assign blame accordingly, based on their

actions. One concern consistently highlighted was that the

emergency decree and martial law governing security

operations in the South confer immunity to formal security

forces (army and police) and most of the paramilitaries.

 

2. (C) Comment: The Abhisit government did lift use of the

emergency decree and martial law in four districts in

Songkhla province in late 2009, in favor of invocation of the

Internal Security Act (ISA), which provides for more

accountability to both civilian officials and security force

personnel. This move may be a harbinger for similar action

in the three southernmost provinces. Since coming to office

in December 2008, Prime Minister Abhisit and key advisers,

such as PM Deputy Secretary General and Acting Government

Spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, have suggested use of the

ISA rather than the emergency decree and martial law would be

preferred in part to improve accountability and remove

blanket immunity for actions taken by security forces. Not

surprisingly, security forces have generally resisted this

effort. End Summary and Comment.

 

A MULTIPLICITY OF MILITIAS AND SECURITY FORCES

——————————————— –

 

3. (SBU) We made one of our regular visits to Thailand\’s

southernmost provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala, and

Songkhla in late December to speak with academic, government,

and civil society contacts about the southern security

situation in general, with a particular focus on the array of

paramilitary groups. Such organizations have long been a

presence in Thailand\’s often sparsely-inhabited border

regions, not just in the south near Malaysia but in the west

near Burma, north near Laos, and east near Cambodia, usually

drawing on local populations (and linguistic abilities) to

augment formal military and police personnel.

 

4. (SBU) Our government, academic, and civil society contacts

presented varying perceptions about the groups operating in

Thailand\’s Deep South. While precise numbers of security

forces vary depending on sources, most estimates are that

roughly 20,000 regular Royal Thai Army (RTA) personnel and

15,000 Royal Thai police are augmented by 9-11,000 rangers

under RTA authority and between 40-60,000 personnel in

various village defense forces and other paramilitary

organizations to provide security in the three southern

provinces, which have a combined population of 2 million.

 

5. (SBU) Ordered from those closest to the RTA and most

regularized Ministry of Interior (MOI) forces to the most

loosely organized groups, the groups include: rangers

 

BANGKOK 00000366 002.2 OF 005

 

(Thahaan Phraan); Volunteer Defense Corps (Or Sor); Village

Defense Volunteers (Chor Ror Bor); and Village Protection

Volunteers (Or Ror Bor). Other groups without official

sanction by the central government, such as the Thais United

(Ruam Thai) have been described as overgrown neighborhood

watch schemes but have contributed guns and localized

protection schemes (REF E).

 

6. (C) Some locals we talked to reported feeling strained by

the presence of multiple armed groups and suggested a

reduction in security-affiliated personnel would increase,

not decrease, security. Students from the southernmost three

provinces studying at Thaksin University in Songkhla and

civil society advocates at the Working Group on Justice for

Peace in Pattani separately told us that reducing the number

of troops and militias patrolling the South would cause a

significant decline in the tension and/or number of insurgent

attacks, a view we had heard during our previous southern

visit in August Hk

\” Communist

Party of Thailand in the northeast, the rangers are a light

infantry force comprised of volunteers but led by RTA regular

officers; they are principally stationed along all of

Thailand\’s borders. Rangers typically wear black fatigues

and a colored bandana, similar to Boy Scouts. Outside of the

South, rangers have recently been in the spotlight for their

involvement in activities along the Cambodian border,

including casualties suffered in skirmishes with Cambodian

troops in 2008-09 (REF F), the return of a small number of

Karen to Burma February 5, and participation in one recent

anti-government rally (REF B). Since 2000, ranger units have

reported directly to the RTA Army Area Commander to which

they are assigned.

 

8. (SBU) Most of the 9,000-11,000 rangers in the South are

25-35 years old and undergo a 45-day training course upon

induction, according to a contact in the RTA Directorate of

Operations. According to Colonel Noppadon Uttanagool, Chief

of Intelligence in the Internal Security Operations Command

(ISOC) Fourth Region, about 70 percent of rangers in the

South are Muslim. Rangers salaries start at 12,900 baht

($390) per month, compared to the 10,700 baht ($325) base

salary for RTA conscripts and non-commissioned soldiers,

including combat pay, according to the RTA Supreme Command

Finance Department and the Ranger Regiment in Songkhla.

 

9. (C) In the Deep South, the rangers had an overall poor

reputation, according to several critics we talked to in

December, in large part due to the participation of ranger

units in the October 2004 incident at Tak Bai and a series of

attacks 2007 against a mosque and several tea shops (REF G).

Newspaper reports regularly mention the rangers as frequent

targets of insurgent attacks. The Working Group on Justice

for Peace and separately XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, a Pattani

provincial deputy district chief, claimed to us that many of

the rangers were trouble-makers in their home villages.

 

OLD SCHOOL: VOLUNTEER DEFENSE CORPS (MOI-AFFILIATED)

——————————————— ——-

 

10. (U) The oldest official paramilitary group in Thailand is

the Volunteer Defense Corps (in Thai: Kong Asa Raksa Dindaen,

or Or Sor), sometimes referred to as Village Scouts. Formed

in 1954, the Volunteer Defense Corps (VDC) are armed,

trained, and paid by the MOI and have approximately 20,000

members nationwide. VDC\’s principal responsibility is to

protect infrastructure, facilities, and MOI officials.

Provincial governors command VDC at the provincial level,

while district chiefs have control of district-level units.

Upon request by the RTA, VDC members in the southern

provinces can participate in action under military command.

 

BANGKOK 00000366 003.2 OF 005

 

11. (C) About 85 percent of all VDC are former RTA, according

to Abdulkarim Yeekham, and about 60 percent of them have

college degrees. New VDC cadre undergo a 45-day training

course conducted by the RTA and MOI, similar to ranger

training. All VDC members participate in scheduled annual

retraining exercises. Abdulkarim told us that the VDC are

required to pass a physical exam twice a year. Benefits for

VDC include four head-to-toe camouflage uniforms per year and

a monthly salary between 4,200-7,000 baht ($130-215) a month.

Members are provided with M-16 or HK-33 assault rifles,

which are kept at unit headquarters to avoid theft either at

home or when members are off duty and in transit. VDC in the

South are also eligible for an additional 2,500 baht ($75)

per month in danger pay and 800 baht ($26) a month in per

diem, according to XXXXXXXXXXX.

 

12. (C) There were between 4,000-4,500 active VDC in the

three southernmost provinces, about 80 percent of whom were

Muslim, according to XXXXXX. Most VDC inductees were in

their early twenties and joined after being discharged from

the military, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX. The MOI\’s 1954

Territorial Defense Volunteer\’s Act specifies who can serve

(Thai citizens aged 17-60, in good health, and not active

police/soldier); Narathiwat Vice Governor for Security Issues

Niphon reconfirmed to us February 2 that authorities in

practice choose those who are at least 21, having passed the

conscription process (at age 20). The Chief of the Personnel

Section at the MOI Bureau of Village Defense Corps told us in

December that in practice they enlist people over the age of

20 because they were more mature and responsible. The same

official said because there was no central database of VDC

cadre, it was impossible to determine whether there were any

VDC under the age of 18.

 

13. (C) Yala Governor Grisada Boonrach told us the VDC were

disciplined and reliable, in large part because they receive

a regular salary. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, who

worked with VDC in his line of duty, claimed that the VDC

were the most professional and had the best reputation in the

South. XXXXXXXXXXX said there have been few disciplinary

problems with the VDC, and it was a group many locals wanted

to join; in Pattani, 7,000 people had applied for 200 open

VDC slots. The VDC were not universally venerated, however.

A reporter for the Thai-language Daily News based in Hat Yai,

alleged to us that many of the VDC had sold illicit drugs and

moonlighted as hitmen.

 

MIDDLE GROUND: VILLAGE DEFENSE VOLUNTEERS (MOI)

——————————————— —

 

14. (SBU) Also formally under the purview of the MOI are the

Village Defense Volunteers (in Thai: Chut Raksa Khwam

Plodphai Moobahn or Chor Ror Bor). The district chiefs,

assisted by village heads, have titular responsibility for

Village Defense Volunteer (VDV) units, with the mandate to

protect their villages. In theory, they report to the local

district chief; in the South, however, in practice they often

fall under the command of the ISOC. Unlike VDC, VDV members

are not paid individually; each VDV unit in the Deep South is

given a monthly budget of 20,000 baht ($660). VDV cadres

receive between three and ten days of training by the RTA or

Royal Thai Police, according to the MOI Bureau of Internal

Security Affairs. VDV are also provided with two navy blue

uniforms and two pair of combat boots a year, according to

Abdulkarim. Each VDV village unit has between five and

fifteen five-round shotguns, provided by ISOC. Members are

authorized to carry the weapons only when they are on duty.

 

15. (C) VDV personnel numbered about 50,000 in the Deep

South, according to an official at the MOI\’s Bureau of

Internal Security, making them the largest

government-sponsored militia in the region. Members are

supposed to be no younger than 20 years old, but Narathiwat

Vice-Governor Nipon indicated that there were some VDV as

young as 18, often the result of sons who volunteered to fill

a village quota in place of their fathers. The Working Group

on Justice for Peace and XXXXXXXXXX separately told us that

most of the VDV in the South are Muslim, which helped

 

BANGKOK 00000366 004.2 OF 005

 

minimize conflicts with villagers. XXXXXXX attributed the

VDV\’s good reputation in part to the fact that they usually

worked in their home villages. Lastly, the VDV are limited

to patrolling from 8 p.m. to midnight.

 

PROBLEM CHILD: VILLAGE PROTECTION VOLUNTEERS (ROYAL-MIL)

——————————————— ———–

 

16. (SBU) The most recently created, and problematic, militia

is the Village Protection Volunteers (in Thai: Ratsadorn Asa

Raksa Moobahn, or Or Ror Bor). In 2004, in response to

multiple entreaties from Buddhist villagers seeking

protection after the upsurge in violence, Queen Sirikit

ordered the military to provide training for interested

people. Deputy Royal Aide-de-Camp GEN Naphol Boonthap

established the Village Protection Volunteers (VPV) and made

arrangements to provide each village with shotguns. Members

can purchase these shotguns at a 60 percent discount from the

original cost, according to Nonviolence International\’s

Southeast Asia report for 2009. Phinit Intharaksa, an

assistant to GEN Naphol, told us that most of the weapons are

loaned to VPV volunteers, who must purchase their own

ammunition. VPV members attend a seven-day initiation

training course conducted by the military and the MOI and are

supposed to attend five-day refresher training courses twice

a year.

 

17. (C) Each Village Protection Volunteer unit received a

lump-sum payment each month, similar to the VDV. Funding

comes from the military budget, as VPV units report to the

local task force commanders, who then report to the Fourth

Area Army Commander, according to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXX. The widely-held perception on the ground

is that the VPV answers to GEN Naphol, with a secret budget

from the military, according to the XXXXXXX reporter who

spoke with us. Nonviolence International\’s 2009 report stated

that each VPV unit received 300,000 baht ($9,900) a month.

GEN Naphol\’s representative Phinit also told us that VPV

members were not individually compensated. Narathiwat

Vice-Governor Niphon, however, claimed to us that VPV members

each received 4,500 baht ($150) per month. XXXXXXX also

said that VPV members were given a monthly stipend.

 

18. (C) XXXXXXXX, President of the XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXX in Narathiwat, told us that of all the

militias, the VPV were the most troublesome. Most notably,

the June shooting at the Al Furqon Mosque in Narathiwat (REF

D) was widely attributed to VPV members from a nearby village

(NOTE: Thai authorities have arrested one suspect, an

ex-ranger and VPV member, see REF A). Several of our

interlocutors attributed this generally negative perception

of the VPV to the exclusively Thai Buddhist composition of

the VPV. The journalist from the XXXXXXX said VPV members

were most likely to view the insurgency as a religious issue,

something he said was very frightening. He also claimed to

us that most villagers associated the group with the Queen

and not solely GEN Naphon; while this damaged the Queen\’s

reputation in the South, it did not appear to affect local

reverence for King Bhumibol, in his view.

 

UNOFFICIAL THORN: RUAM THAI (NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH?)

——————————————— —-

 

19. (SBU) An unofficial group not under RTG sponsorship known

as Ruam Thai (\”Thais United\”) started in 1982 in Narathiwat

province as a neighborhood watch-type program, according to

the Issara News Institute. In 2005, Ruam Thai instituted

military-style training supervised by Police Colonel Phitak

Iadkaew, then the chief of investigation in Yala Province,

drawing attention from NGOs like the Coalition to Stop the

Use of Child Soldiers and Nonviolence International,

concerned about the age of some participants in the training.

However, Phithak has not directly supervised the Ruam Thai

since November 2007, when he was transferred to RTP Special

Branch in Songkhla.

 

20. (C) Views on current Ruam Thai activity and numbers

suggest that Phithak\’s transfer weakened Ruam Thai

 

BANGKOK 00000366 005.2 OF 005

 

significantly. Governor of Yala Province Grisada Boonrach

told us that since 2007, participation in Ruam Thai had

dwindled to almost nothing in Yala, where Phitak was most

active. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX told

us that many previous Ruam Thai members had left the

movement, preferring the paid positions with the VDC or VDV.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX likewise

indicated to us in late January that after Phitak\’s 2007

transfer, Ruam Thai went essentially dormant, and should not

be considered at this point as anything more than a

neighborhood watch-style organization.

 

PROSECUTING PARAMILITARY MISCONDUCT

———————————–

 

21. (C) Pursuing accusations of misconduct or abuse by the

various security forces in the South can be difficult. All

of the official security forces and paramilitaries, except

for the VPV, benefit from some protection from prosecution

under the emergency decree and martial law. Rangers are

considered official assistants to the regular army and are

covered by the relevant clauses in the emergency decree and

martial law in all their activities. Volunteer Defense Corps

personnel are covered by the provisions in the emergency

decree and martial law only when their activities are part of

joint operations with the military and/or police; unilateral

VDC operations are not covered by the law. Similarly, when

Village Defense Volunteers are tasked by the military or

police, they have the protection of the law. Village

Protection Volunteers never have legal protection under the

emergency decree or martial law. Many VPV members hold

concurrent enrollment with the VDV, however, according to

Abdulkarim Yeekham, making prosecution for misconduct

difficult. Private, unofficial militias such as the Ruam

Thai have no immunity from prosecution for their activities.

JOHN

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Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 1:04 am

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