Bangkok – Thai senior officials have dismissed complaints about an official "re-education" programme for young men in the deep South as propaganda by militants to discredit the government. Many male villagers in the restive area had claimed that they were lured into attending a "surrender ceremony" and the so-called "peace-building training programme" without being informed of exactly what they would have to go through.
Justice Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya, however, denied that innocent young men had been forced to attend the re-education camp, which was supposed to last from seven days to one month.
"No, there wasn't any forced participation. It may be propaganda (by militants) to discredit the government by telling the story to reporters. This is a two-sided issue," he said.
However, Mr Chidchai admitted that there was a possibility that local officials might have interfered with the list of "misguided" youngsters who are suspected of having sympathies for the insurgents.
Over the weekend, 137 villagers from the deep South attended the "surrender" ceremony, which Interior Minister Kongsak Wantana presided over. Mr Kongsak called the young men's decision to join the camp, which will be held at an army barracks in Songkhla, as a move towards a permanent peace in the mainly-Muslim region.
However, many of the 137 men said they were lured into attending the ceremony and declined to join the re-education camp as they had not done anything wrong.
Opposition lawmaker Jecharming Tochtayong accused the government of luring southern Muslims to the re-education camp with a false offer of a free trip toBangkok. "I don't have exact figures of how many innocent villagers were tricked into the programme, so I'm calling on the government to reconsider the scheme and to delete lists naming innocent people," he said.
* Young people 'never forced' into training (Bangkok Post, Dec 14)
* Thai govt denies 'forced re-education' in south (The Straits Times, Dec 14)