Luck of the draw for Thai army recruits

Tue Apr 9, 2013 11:58pm EDT
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By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Winai Sawaengkarn closes his eyes before reaching into a wooden box and drawing a black card. He beams, and his watching mother sweeps him up into a tight embrace, overjoyed that he will not have to serve in the army.

Winai, 21, is just one of thousands of Thai men taking part in April's army recruitment lottery that will determine if they serve in the military. Others unwilling to chance fate volunteer for a shorter stint.

"I've been lucky. But I'm happiest for my mother," said the delivery man, who shouted when he saw his black card which exempts him from military service.

Men over 21 must serve in the army, which has always been at the forefront of Thai politics but has come in for some rare criticism since 91 people died in anti-government protests in 2010.

Those who volunteer serve six months, but others choose the annual lottery, which goes on for 10 days in recruitment centers around Thailand.

Nobody wants a red card, which means serving for two years, with the chance of a posting in the dangerous south.

"I haven't slept in a week. I prayed before coming here that he wouldn't get a red card," said Noppakorn Leelahemkattana, mother of a 20-year-old son.

Only those not considered physically capable of service, the mentally ill and those who have significantly altered their physical appearance - such as transgenders, who are more visible in Thai society than in many other nations - are exempt. Students can defer while in full-time education.   Continued...

A young man celebrates after pulling out a black ticket from a plastic bucket during an army draft held at a school in Klong Toey, the dockside slum area in Bangkok April 7, 2013. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj