Authorities are planning to impose a curfew in the deep South to curb the escalating violence, amid mounting concerns over the impact it is having on the region’s economy.

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said the Internal Security Operations Command has been assigned to identify the specific areas to be affected by the curfew, with the help of the 4th Army Region.

The curfew plan is expected to be forwarded to the cabinet for consideration before being implemented, probably after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the minister said.

The proposal comes after a spate of insurgent attacks in the deep South during the past two weeks, including a car bomb attack near a hotel in Pattani town on Tuesday night.

As the military shifts their resources to tackle the increasing violence, ACM Sukumpol urged state agencies to help the army by dealing with other law enforcement problems, such as smuggling and drugs, in order to reduce its workload.

To deter future violence, the air force will provide air reconnaissance and patrol support for ground troops in their missions, he added.

ACM Sukumpol said the air support would be provided on a small scale and would not involve fighter jets.

The peacemaker AU-23 aircraft will be deployed for patrol and photo-taking missions, said air force spokesman Monthon Satchukorn.

A special air force unit has also been sent to oversee the security of Bo Thong airport in Pattani’s Nong Chik district, the spokesman added.

Deputy Prime Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa emphasised that the curfew would be limited to certain areas to avoid causing panic and to limit the effect on the South’s economy.

Mr Yutthasak said a new plan to solve the unrest in the deep South will be proposed for the prime minister’s consideration next Wednesday.

The plan involves enhancing state agencies’ capabilities to quickly respond to problems, he said.

Airports of Thailand Plc president Anirut Thanomkulbutra said southern airports have been placed on a strict security watch as part of stepped-up measures against possible militant attacks. Security measures have also been beefed up at bus terminals, with passengers’ bags subject to extra scrutiny, said Wuthichart Kalayanamit, president of the Transport Co.

The government’s curfew plan has caused concern over its possible impact on the region and its residents.

Madaree Mama, a local religious leader in Narathiwat town, said he agreed that additional security measures were needed to address the southern unrest, but that he sympathised with business owners who would have to bear the brunt of the economic impact from the curfew.

All business operators in the far South should be invited to discuss the curfew and find ways to cushion possible economic losses, the religious leader said.

Rapee Tolala, a fish market owner in Narathiwat town, said the curfew would affect the fishery business as employees needed to work at night.

Thepthai Senapong, a Democrat MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat, said the curfew could hurt the livelihoods of the local people.

He urged the government to improve its intelligence efforts so that authorities could more effectively prevent future violence.

Meanwhile, Somsak Isriyapinyo, chairman of the Pattani Chamber of Commerce, said the province has already seen adverse economic effects from the car bomb that exploded near CS Pattani Hotel on Tuesday night.

The blast scared off all the tourists, he said, noting that the economic losses had yet to be measured.

Mr Somsak said that to attract investors, the government should extend investment incentives in the three southernmost provinces due to expire at the end of this year.

Thanit Sorat, vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the far South provinces should be designated a special economic zone to promote business activity.

Yusin Jinthavorn, chairman of Yala’s provincial industrial council, called on the government to implement measures to ease the labour shortage in the region.

Meanwhile, three men were killed in separate incidents in Pattani yesterday.

In Mayo district, Hama Domi, 64, was found shot dead on a village road of tambon Mayo, while Sakariya Sama, 31, was gunned down in a paddy field in tambon Luboyeure.

The third victim, Talif Le, 32, was found in a sack floating in Panare River in tambon Klang of Panare district.