Thailand has revamped a program that aims to rehabilitate southern insurgents who lay down their weapons by focusing on hardcore rebels requiring special training, the Thai army’s regional commander said.
The Thai military sharply reduced the number of enrollees and changed criteria for people signing up for the Bring People Home Project, which encourages rebels to surrender and transition back to civilian life in their home villages, he said.
“We reset the program, adopting all new measures,” Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich, commander of the army’s Fourth Region, which covers the troubled Thai Deep South, told reporters earlier this month.
In 2017, Thailand’s defense minister ordered a review of the program, changes to it and closer vetting of applicants after one of its participants allegedly took part in a bombing that injured scores of civilians outside a department store in Pattani province last May.
Piyawat was speaking at a Feb. 2 ceremony in Yarang, a district of Pattani, where 288 men identified as separatist insurgents surrendered symbolically to the authorities as program enrollees, although they had already formally turned themselves in. The military was parading them before the local press as enrollees in the revamped program.
In the months leading up to the attack on the Big C department store, military officials claimed that as many as 4,400 insurgents had signed up for Bring People Home. But now, through the scaled down numbers, only the 288 remain enrolled, including 161 who signed up in 2018, Piyawat said.
“The more than 4,000 others enrolled before were found non-relevant. … We want the real ones who have arrest warrants and other ‘misled persons’ to join the program. And we reset the program, we abandoned the old procedures and adopt new ones which are clearly different,” Piyawat said.
The thousands of others who were not considered hardcore rebels were removed from the program’s rolls and allowed to return to their villages in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South, where nearly 7,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related incidents and other violence since the separatist conflict reignited 14 years ago.
The number of enrollees was also revised down because program’s staff could not effectively monitor and visit thousands of enrollees twice a month, officials said. Last year, the military allocated 106 million baht (U.S. $3.33 million) for Bring People Home.
“The program must be sped up because it not only reduces violence, but it sends a psychological effect on the attempts to train new insurgents,” said Col. Pansit Supanchanaburi, the officer who oversees the program.
Full story: BenarNews
Araya Poejar in Bangkok and Matahari Ismail in Narathiwat contributed to this report.
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