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Speculation, unease over Thai reconciliation centres

Some are worrying that the reconciliation centres to be set up by the Thai military government hese may resemble re-education camps from the Cold War era.

BANGKOK: The Thai military government plans to set up centres for people from different political camps to come together and learn about opposing views.

But with few details revealed, some are speculating that these reconciliation centres may resemble re-education camps from the Cold War era.

The political lines have long been drawn, and they are deep.

But the military government is hoping to erase those divisions and, in their word, bring "happiness" back to the Thai people through reconciliation centres.

The centres, to be set up across the country in two weeks, are aimed at encouraging people to accept opposing views, as well as to get them to propose reform plans.

"We would ask people from all walks of life, regardless of political preference, to come together. And we will try our best to inform them that we can have differences in opinion and we must understand that," said Colonel Weerachon Sukondhapatipak of the Royal Thai Army.

Aside from organised music concerts and free medical checkups, details remain vague, causing some analysts to speculate about the military's agenda.

"I think the army tried to apply the techniques and concepts from the Cold War era during which they fought with the Communist Party of Thailand,” said Kan Yuenyong of the Siam Intelligence Unit.

“They apply concepts like the Karunyathep Centre which is like a re-education centre, and then after the program they can get back to the society as normal people."

Karunyathep centre was set up in the 1970s, as part of the military's soft approach towards Communist party members.

Captured communists would be sent to the re-education camps to be taught about democratic values before being released.

However, the military maintains that the reconciliation centres will operate in today's context and that this time, participation will be voluntary.

"The concept might be quite similar but the implementation is different, we understand the context of the current situation,” said Colonel Weerachon.

“We will not just apply the World War Two concept. You have to look at how we implement that concept."

Still, some are not convinced.

"This is not reconciliation at all; it's about the fighting or the war tactics. I think this is a misconception that the army tries to use to resolve the problem. We do not talk about the legitimacy of the coup; this is another problem as well," said Mr Kan.

In order for the army to achieve sustainable reconciliation, it will need to address criticism head on and prove that their plans can be non-partisan.

It needs to do this by making its details clear -- to tackle the perception that the military government is cracking down on opposition. 

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