The appointment of retired Army Gen Panlop Pinmanee as military adviser appears to be a signal from the Council for National Security that the conciliatory approach will change toward both Muslim insurgents in the South and opponents of the military regime.
Gen Panlop, who moved back into the Isoc headquarters earlier this month, is a former commando and self-described assassin. And he talked calmly and toughly on Saturday night about the problems in the deep South.“The way to solve the problem in the South is to get the people on your side,” Gen Panlop said in an interview, broadcast on Saturday night by Channel 3.But if the violence continues, the military should carry out “search and destroy” missions against the insurgents, he said. “If we cannot make them surrender, then we have no choice – we have to destroy them.”
Gen Panlop is both notorious for his harsh tactics but hated for his survival instincts.He appeared relaxed in the interview and said he had stayed alive this long because he was careful. His colleagues seem more concerned. Aides carried into his office a birthday present from a fellow general in the Thai Army.A BULLETPROOF VEST !!!
He said Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who led the September coup that overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and brought the junta to power, asked him to be an adviser during a round of golf in March. The men once served together in a special warfare unit.Gen Panlop, who turned 71 on Friday, speaks about his days as an army-appointed assassin in a casual, matter-of-fact tone and offers little to dispel his tough-guy reputation.He was the leader of what he called the “killer team,” a secret seven-man army unit in 1970 that carried out extrajudicial killings. “The assignment was to kill the leaders of Communist groups all over Thailand,” he said.
He said he was also a guerrilla mercenary for the Central Intelligence Agency along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the 1960s.
But he is perhaps best known for his decision to raid the Krue Se mosque in PATANI in 2004, a move that left 32 martyred unarmed youngster. The raid helped rekindled the Patani revolution, which has caused about 2,200 deaths in the past three years.
“Diplomacy is not his strong point, his expertise is to kill people and deal with things by force.”
It is too early to tell how influential Gen Panlop will be in the government. But amid rumors of countercoups and manoeuvering by Mr Thaksin’s allies, the generals seem to have calculated that they needed his skills. Gen Panlop has been involved in three military coups and is said to have once plotted to assassinate an army commander.
Gen Panlop began his job on May 3 at the Internal Security Operations Command, a military agency created under another name in the 1960s to fight Communists in the country. Returning to the security agency was a rehabilitation for Gen Panlop, who until last August was its deputy director. He was fired when Mr Thaksin accused Gen Panlop of plotting to assassinate him.
Gen Panlop ridiculed the idea at the time, saying, “If I had done it, I guarantee that the prime minister would not have survived.”
Now, he says he is using the agency’s network of 700,000 volunteers around the country to gather intelligence on the junta’s opponents.
After seizing power in September, the junta vowed to take a soft approach to the southern insurgency in contrast to Mr Thaksin’s hard-line stance. Last November, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont issued a far-reaching public apology on behalf of the Thai state for what he called flawed government policies toward local Malay Muslims.
But this and other olive branches failed to stem the daily killings of civilians.
Gen Panlop says he can beat insurgents at their own game because that is a game he played — in 1966 and 1967 when he led guerrilla units in attacks against North Vietnamese traveling the Ho Chi Minh Trail. “The strategy of hit-and-run I know very well,” he said.He refused to say exactly how many people suspected of being Communists he and his six fellow assassins killed in 1970.“Many, many,” he said.He did not want to identify the people he killed because it would upset too many of their relatives, he said.