Thai security agencies agreed in principle this week to amend the National Security Act so the military could request that criminal charges be dropped against southern insurgents who lay down their weapons and enroll in a rehabilitation program, officials said.
Officials have been assigned to prepare the amendment, said Gen. Wallop Raksano, director general of the National Security Council, after a security meeting in Bangkok on Wednesday.
“The meeting agreed in principle to amend the 2008 National Security Act and assigned the Internal Security Operations Command to handle the amendment proposal,” Wallop told reporters without elaborating.
The proposed amendment was long overdue, said Panitan Wattanayagorn, who led Wednesday’s meeting and serves as adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.
“This idea was initiated under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, to give a sort of immunity to defectors absent in previous laws,” Panitan told BenarNews on Thursday. “Officials could find its benefits and make use of it.”
Abhisit served as prime minister from 2008 to 2011.
Since 2004, about 7,000 people have been killed in violence in Thailand’s insurgency-stricken Deep South. In many cases, rebels linked to the Barisan Revolusi Nasional – the country’s largest separatist insurgent group – are considered prime suspects.
To ease violence in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region, the military has backed the state-run rehabilitation program, known as Bring People Home, since 2013. It allows enrollees to live in their home villages while attending activities, including “attitude adjustment” indoctrination sessions and vocational training, aimed at helping them get jobs and reintegrate into civilian life.
Under the act as written, those who wish to participate but have criminal records or face outstanding arrest warrants can get legal assistance and be promised a fair trial, but cannot be absolved by joining the program.
The amendment would allow the military to ask the attorney general to clear enrollees who registered with the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 (ISOC-4), received training and proved themselves to be free of ties to insurgents during a two-year probationary period, according to the Bangkok Post.
Support for amendment
In Yala, one of the provinces in the Deep South, a Muslim cleric welcomed the proposal.
“That will be very good if there is a law to support the enrollees. They can rest assured they are entitled to have charges dropped,” said cleric Nimu Makaje, who is also a trainer in the Bring People Home project. “That will also make the program more efficient.”
He said some suspects who wanted to enroll in the program had been charged with criminal offenses by mistake.
Meanwhile, an ISOC-4 spokesman said he did not have the details of the proposal but that the military recognized its need.
“We are discussing this matter to make it benefit the enrollees,” Col. Pramote Prom-in told BenarNews on Thursday.