Subject: BP: Thai self-defence villages set-backa


January 19, 2001

SELF-DEFENCE VILLAGES: Red-tape setback for army scheme: Lack of funds, staff and co-operation

The army's self-defence border village scheme, which East Timor wants to use as a model, has mounting bureaucratic and financial problems.

Col Komchart Smitanondha, deputy chief of the secretariat overseeing the grassroots project, said it is struggling with sparse financial support, understaffing and scant co-operation from other agencies.

The army lacked a mechanism to join local agencies in decision-making, he said.

This limited the chance for development funds to be directed to villages.

"I have to admit that we mainly rely on personal contact to persuade local authorities to help us," Col Komchart told a seminar on national security and development organised by Supreme Command Headquarters.

Eight ministries plus the Sports Authority of Thailand and the Office of the Attorney-General have been assigned to take parti in the scheme.

The armed forces launched the scheme in the 1970s to encourage villagers to guard the border and alert the army to security threats. It now involves 583 villages which border neighbouring countries.

Development projects and funds were directed to border areas to keep villagers at home.

Villagers also received basic military training and equipment for self-defence.

The success of the scheme grabbed East Timor's attention and the army is preparing paperwork for the United Nations Transitional Authority seeking third-country funding for a similar project there.

Aside from financial and inter-agency worries, the scheme faces the additional problem of villager migration, Col Komchart said.

Better income prospects and job opportunities were driving villagers out of their border homes.

This was particularly true in villages adjoining Laos, where nearly half the residents had moved, he said.

Fighting in neighbouring countries, especially in Burma, was also pushing people to take a refuge at other villages, he said.

Political scientist Chai-anan Samudavanija said the army's problem illustrated the development gap in a country where remote villages enjoyed less opportunities.

He urged the armed forces to re-draw the strategy to suit local needs so that it would receive more co-operation.

Rather than focussing on military threats which no longer exist, the army should look to the special problems of each village, for example drugs, he said.

"I must say that the project will not get enough budget funding so long as its main focus is still self-defence," said Mr Chai-ana, director of Vajivudh College.

Saritdet Marukatat

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