Security officials defend visit to Islamic school in South
Local security officials have come in defense of last weekend’s visit to an Islamic school, in the strife-torn southern Thai province of Narathiwat, by a group of soldiers accompanied by a Buddhist monk. The visit touched off a strong reaction from some quarters in the local Muslim community.
An opposition MP directed criticism at the government over the incident during the House debate on Thursday.
A spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command’s forward unit in Region 4 said the visit was part of the government’s efforts to promote peaceful co-existence within the country’s pluralistic culture.
Spokesman Col Kiattisak Neewong said the visit to the Islamic school for elementary students, known as “tadika”, in Bacho District, was made at the invitation of its management. He said the school had requested a new national flag.
“The flag at the school was old and in bad condition, so it asked the army unit to replace it with a new one,” he said.
He said soldiers from a local army public affairs unit complied with the request and took the opportunity to educate the students on the history of the Thai national flag. He insisted that none of the soldiers were armed.
“Our officials fully understand the standard operating procedure in meeting local people, especially at tadika, where there are always lots of young students,” he said, adding that there are strict guidelines for soldiers about carrying firearms in such circumstances.
The spokesman said the visit was part of the so-called “teaching assistance activities”, which have been carried out by local security units with local Muslim students.
Col Kiattisak also explained that Phra Samujirapon Thammajaro, the abbot of Urai Rattanaram Temple, went along to hand out educational kits and snacks to the students, but did not take part in any teaching activities. “This is something he has been doing at many tadika schools for quite some time,” the spokesman said.
He said the visit has been distorted by some news outlets as interference in Islamic teaching.
An Islamic youth group in Narathiwat has issued a statement criticising the visit, while Kuheng Yawohasan, a Narathiwat MP of the Prachachart Party, said during the House debate on Thursday that the incident has offended the Muslim community.