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Thailand: Junta to place ‘re-education camps’ in Muslim south

2nd Apr 2016
Thailand:  Junta to place ‘re-education camps’ in Muslim south

By Max Constant


BANGKOK (AA) – The Thai junta is to place some of its “re-education training courses” in military camps in the Thai south — a region destabilized by a violent insurgency led by Malay Muslim groups.

The Nation newspaper reported army chief Gen. Theerachai Nakwanich as saying Saturday that the “camps of understanding” would be held across the country, including in Yala and Pattani — areas near the country’s border in which those suspected of links to rebel groups have been detained and reportedly tortured.

“The outline of the seven-day intensive course has been completed. A list of those who may have to attend the sessions has been established. They are the same old faces,” the 59-year-old hardliner underlined.

Yala and Pattani — as well as the neighbouring majority-Muslim provinces of Narathiwat and four districts of Songkla — have been plagued for decades by an insurgency targeting the central state, which has claimed the lives of over 6500 people since 2004.

Suspects released from camps in the area have spoke of routine torture sessions during their detention, as documented by the NGO Cross Cultural Foundation in a January report.

The idea of “re-education courses” for those who repeatedly criticize the junta’s rule was touted by the country’s 70-year-old defense minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan on Tuesday, with the attempted justification that the usual “attitude adjustment sessions” – as are called the temporary detentions of the regime’s critics in military camps, usually for a maximum seven days periods – were not successful.

“Those who underwent the session still expressed their thoughts once released,” he stated.

Junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha added “in the past critics were summoned to come and undergo ‘understanding’ but when they went back their behaviour was unchanged”.

The 62-year-old added that the re-education programmes would take from a few days to a full month, although from Saturday’s comments in the Nation it now appears that the detention period has been restricted to seven days.

Similar “education camps” have previously existed in Southeast Asia under Cold War communist regimes in Vietnam and Laos – regimes that Thailand was bitterly opposed to.

They were set up to erase “capitalist and liberal ideas” from the brains of former cadres of the previous pro-U.S. regimes and to instil them with communist ideology.

The camps were maintained until the late 1980s. Of those who survived, almost no one had converted to the new Marxist belief system.

On Friday evening — during his weekly TV show broadcast on all Thai channels — Chan-ocha said that the new “re-programming” would concern “those who refuse to change after repeated talks”.

“What they say is clearly not criticism with honest intentions as they like to claim, so it is important to warn them,” he added.

The announcement In Thailand of the new camps came on the back of the detainment of two junta opponents from the Puea Thai party — the political vehicle of former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck — for public comments and Facebook postings criticizing the junta.

Both of the Shinawatra governments were overthrown in coups, in 2006 and 2014 respectively.

Former MP Worachai Hema was released Tuesday after three days of “attitude adjustment” – a junta expression for coercive discussions with political dissenters in order to force them not to publicly express their opinions — while another Puea Thai politician, former social affairs minister Watana Muangsook, was arrested Sunday and is still being detained.

Hema had called for Chan-ocha to resign if a draft charter of the constitution — written by a military-appointed committee of legal experts and given Tuesday to the government — did not pass a popular referendum on Aug. 7.

Muangsook, meanwhile, had strongly criticized the military detention of Hema on his Facebook page.

It was the second such session for Muangsook, who was also held earlier this month.

On Tuesday, Chan-ocha underlined his reasons.

“Everyone must understand that the law is the law,” he said.

[Photo: Muslim villagers in Pattani,Yale. Photographer: Marcus Brogden/AA]

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