NARATHIWAT • Thai soldiers have been deployed to patrol full time a long stretch of the Thai-Malaysian border in two provinces to stop illegal border crossings and smuggling, The Bangkok Post newspaper has reported.
Thai army chief Chalermchai Sithisart approved the round-the- clock deployment of the border patrol teams at Narathiwat and Yala provinces from May 12, the paper said on Sunday. These provinces border the Malaysian states of Kelantan, Perak and Kedah.
The patrols came about following recent news that the authorities in Malaysia had captured several militants from the country who support the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and had been smuggling weapons from Thailand. This led to fears of possible cooperation between the Muslim insurgents in South Thailand and the ISIS terror group, Bangkok Post said.
The soldiers from the 15th Infantry Division are deployed in small teams, and aim to block the smuggling of war materials, including explosives, and prevent illegal crossings by Thai insurgents, General Chalermchai said.
He made the announcement on the deployment while on an inspection trip to the Second Border Defence Company of the Narathiwat Task Force 30, which is based in Narathiwat's Tak Bai district.
Gen Chalermchai stressed the need to beef up intelligence operations, and said the soldiers must ensure the safety of local residents during their patrols, the paper said.
Malaysian police last week said they had busted an ISIS-linked arms smuggling cell with the arrest of a third gang member.
The cell had reportedly been smuggling weapons from Thailand and building up a stockpile for at least a year to prepare for attacks in Malaysia and abroad. The first arrests, made in March, were believed to be the first time the Malaysian authorities had uncovered weapon-smuggling by militants linked to ISIS. Security forces believe the cell had at least five semi-automatic pistols, a pump gun and an M4 carbine assault rifle.
The tighter security at the border adds to the rise in vigilance across several borders among South-east Asian nations following an attack in Marawi in the Philippines by militants who pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Security monitoring has also been tightened in northern Indonesia and Malaysia's Sabah state on concerns that militants fleeing Marawi will try to enter neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the police's Anti-Terrorism Unit would be upgraded to a division to take on bigger responsibilities to prevent acts of terrorism.
"The move to upgrade the anti- terrorism unit into a division is a sign of the government's concern over terrorism," Datuk Seri Zahid told reporters on Sunday evening.