The army is now overburdened with responsibilities in the far South and this weakness needs to be addressed and eliminated, Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said on Tuesday.
ACM Sukumpol was commenting in the wake the car bomb explosion at the CS Pattani Hotel in the heart of Pattani town on Tuesday night - the latest of a series of major attacks in the three southern border provinces during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The insurgents had stepped up their actions, apparently determined to demonstrate their combat capability, causing considerable losses on the government side, he said.
He admitted the bombing of the CS Pattani Hotel bomb, which was thought to be a safe place, was due to mistakes on the part of the authorities, who overlooked the fact the hotel had been bombed four years ago.
Five people were reported injured in Tuesday night's bombing.
The defence minister said he had consulted with armed forces commanders and they agreed that other agencies needed to take over some responsibilities so the army could better cope with the situation.
"We found the army has a weak point. They army is loaded down with so many duties which are not directly its own responsibility.
"I don't mean to blame other agencies, but I want them to send their personnel to relieve the workload of the army's soldiers, who should not be used for suppression of smuggling of drugs and other contraband and manning security checkpoints.
"We need police to take over these responsibilities. Soldiers have a lot more other things to do," ACM Sukumpol said.
ACM Sukumpol said he agreed that soldiers were still needed to provide security for monks, school children and teachers, even though it involved a routine task that made them an easy target for attack.
The minister said he had talked with army commander-in-chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and air force chief ACM Itthaporn Suphawong about the need for aircraft to support ground operations, but that did not extend to the use of F16 fighters.
He cited a recent example in which insurgents set up a road block and launched an attack that killed four soldiers in Pattani. This would not have happened if there was a plane flying reconnaissance overhead, he said.
The matter had yet to be discussed in detail by the armed forces chiefs, he added.
Asked why the army's airship was not used for this purpose, he said it was probably under repair.
ACM Sukumpol said he had also talked with the armed forces chiefs about the use of special laws, including imposing a night curfew, but no conclusion had been reached. He did not mention what the special laws were.
The law for administration in an emergency situation, or the emergency decree, is still in force in most of the districts of the three southernmost border provinces.
Asked about the government's new operations command to tackle problems in the deep South, that was approved by the cabinet, ACM Sukumpol said it would be located in Bangkok.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung would oversee use of police to support counter-insurgency opperations in the far South, but he would not interfere in the work of the armed forces, ACM Sukumpol said.
Mr Chalerm said there will be improved integration of intelligence operations and more cooperation between soldiers and villagers in the far South.
He said a new operations centre will be set up for soldiers, police and civilians in the southernmost provinces to work together.
"The government is moving in the right direction in tackling the southern unrest and I'm confident that we can get it under control," Mr Chalerm said.
He said there was nothing unusual about the hotel bombing in Pattani on Tuesday night because the southern situation remained disorderly and such incidents do happen.
"If the police strength is not adequate, there'll be more troop reinforcements to strengthen the operations team and lift the people's morale there," the deputy premier said.
By Wassana Nanuam
01 August 2012
ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)