October 16, 2015 / 9:34 AM / 2 years ago

Field marshalling - Thai military launches rural education plan

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's junta will send soldiers to rural areas to educate villagers on topics from careers to farming, a junta spokesman said on Friday, but critics say the scheme is a thinly veiled attempt to re-educate dissenters.

The plan will see troops offering advice to villagers, said Colonel Winthai Suvaree, spokesman for the junta, or National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), but it is mostly aimed at telling villagers "the truth" about military rule.

"The NCPO will send soldiers to every village to create understanding so that villagers are not listening to information that is different from the truth," Winthai told Reuters.

"In terms of farming, if there is not enough water, we might ask them to stop farming or switch to another crop."

Thailand has been locked in an information war since the army took power last year with official news from the junta and allegations of rights abuses against those who do not adhere to the official line.

The military set up so-called "reconciliation centers" across the country aimed at healing a decade of political division shortly after taking power in a May 2014 coup.

It has said elections are likely in 2017, though the date keeps getting pushed back.

The centers, many of which are still running more than a year after the coup, mostly targeted the northeast, a stronghold of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Since the army toppled Thaksin in 2006, Thailand has been sharply divided between his supporters in the north and northeast and the traditional establishment, dominated by the royalist military, in the capital and the south.

Thaksin's sister, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was ordered by a court to step down days before the 2014 coup after she was found guilty of abuse of power.

The junta has since stifled dissent, barring political discussions and debate.

Winthai denied allegations that the rural education plan was an attempt to re-educate villagers.

"This is about genuinely helping farmers and others who might need advice," he said. "We also want them to understand the work that the NCPO does and what our roadmap to democracy is."

Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch, said junta members saw themselves as guardians of the country.

"And they see the country falling apart as a result of western democracy," he said.

Additional reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie

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