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Training of 'child soldiers' condemned

January 28, 2008

A group in the three southernmost provinces is inducting "child soldiers" into the local self-defence force, the Working Group on Justice for Peace said yesterday.

The non-government organisation chaired by Angkhana Neelaphajit condemned the training of youngsters aged 8 to 10 years in the use of weapons by the Ruam Thai Team. The RTT was violating the rights of children by training them as "child soldiers", the statement said.

It called on the agencies tackling southern unrest and private and state organisations protecting children's rights to investigate the matter.

The working group was reacting to reports the RTT - formed by a group of residents in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat and some border districts in Songkhla - has expanded its defence-force training to include about 300 children.

The RTT is headed by Pol Col Pithak Iedkaew, a former investigation chief of Yala police station and now superintendent of the Krasae Sin district police in Songkhla. It comprises people from all walks of life and age groups.

The RTT began providing weapons training for Buddhist and Muslim residents in the deep South in 2005 following a string of attacks that took the lives of innocent civilians and local officials.

In Narathiwat, a 12-member army teacher protection squad escaped unscathed from a roadside bomb explosion in Narathiwat's Rueso district yesterday.

The bomb went off about 3am as the squad was making a routine patrol.

About 300 rangers were deployed to search hills near two villages in Rueso district for five suspected members of the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK). The sweep followed Sunday's gunfight in which two of seven suspected RKK members were killed by soldiers.

On Sunday, a soldier was slightly wounded by a roadside explosion in Yala's Muang district. The bomb went off about 10pm in tambon Lidol as the 13-member patrol went past. Gunmen then opened fire from ambush.

After a brief exchange of shots the attackers fled.

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