Thailand close 6 border crossings to keep out ISIS

Main border crossings such as this one in Songkhla remain open but authorities have closed six temporary immigration posts. (File photos)

Six temporary border crossings have been closed down along the Kolok River in Narathiwat to prevent members of Islamic State (IS) and other insurgents from sneaking into the country, officials said this week.

The closures, which began on Tuesday, have affected about 5,000 villagers in eight communities who used them to commute daily from Sungai Kolok district to work in Malaysia.

The measure has also hurt the local tourism industry including motorcycle taxis, ferries and hotels as most clients are Malaysian tourists passing through the border crossings and checkpoints lying along the river in Sungai Kolok district, officials said.

The six river border crossings were sealed off by the 30th Narathiwat Special Task Force in response to an order issued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

One legal checkpoint at Prapa Pier and several temporary checkpoints remain open.

Residents from six communities have petitioned the prime minister urging him to re-open all six crossings. The mayor of Sungai Kolok and representatives from the provincial tourism association and local chamber of commerce sent a similar petition.

All requests were denied.

Wichan Suksong, chief of the 15th Infantry Brigade that oversees the province, said Wednesday the move was designed to prevent IS members and other separatist networks from entering illegally.

It also aims to help maintain peace and order in the area and screen illegal items such as tools and bomb-making materials so they are not smuggled over the border, he said.

Maj Gen Wichan said insurgents and their illegal business activities would be the hardest hit while villagers can use the Prapa Pier checkpoint to commute to Malaysia.

If that or the temporary checkpoints are too far from where they live, villagers can seek permission from authorities to travel via the six border crossings, he said, adding that exceptions will be allowed on a discretionary basis.

Villagers living along the Thai-Malaysian border have been informed of the closures, Maj Gen Wichan said.

Speaking after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd sought public understanding of the action, saying it was necessary for their safety and national defence.

Local administrative authorities agree with the shutting down of the crossings and want to see security measures stepped up, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan, said Panu Uthairat, who represents a special delegation on security affairs in the far South.

Songkran Dechajamat, operator of Chae Kasem Pier, one of the six border crossings ordered to be closed down, expressed his concern over the measure and the negative impact it will have on motorcycle taxi drivers.

Mahamadnase Mayeng, a local taxi driver at Toh Arwae Pier, which has also been closed, said as a breadwinner he normally earns 200-300 baht a day, just enough to sustain his family.

He said he was worried he could lose most of his income. – Bangkok Post

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