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Monday, Nov 3, 2014

Asia

Thailand weighing up police conscription

AFP | Monday, Nov 3, 2014

BANGKOK - Thailand is mulling the re-introduction of police conscription, a spokesman said Monday, as the much-maligned and poorly paid force looks to boost its ranks by several thousand each year.

The kingdom's police have come under intense scrutiny since a May army coup, with the military purging dozens of top officers seen as cosy with the elected former government of Yingluck Shinawatra, whose billionaire brother Thaksin is an ex-policeman.

The police are unpopular with Thais who bemoan routine bribe-taking, while the recent murder of two British backpackers on a holiday island has opened the force to criticism that it is poorly trained in investigating crime.

The cabinet has already agreed "in principle" to conscript 5-10,000 men - aged 21 - annually across the country, a National Police spokesman told AFP.

"Currently we are lacking police officers. (If approved) Police conscripts will work in areas across the country where there are high crime rates," said Police Lieutenant General Prawut Thavornsiri, adding the order still needs full cabinet approval.

If rubber-stamped by cabinet, the military will oversee the police draft, he said, adding recruits were likely to be paid $245-275 a month, slightly higher than the minimum wage of around $220.

Thailand ended police conscription a decade ago and has around 230,000 officers across the country.

But currently all 18-year-old men are already meant to register for the army draft before serving from when they are 21 for at least two years, according to the Interior Ministry.

Thailand's police - notorious for taking streetside bribes for everything for traffic offences to running unlicensed bars - are seen as broadly loyal to Thaksin, the self-exiled former premier who was ousted in a previous coup in 2006.

Thaksin left the Royal Thai Police with the rank of lieutenant colonel after more than decade in the force, but he still draws loyalty from senior officers and many among the rank-and-file.

Analysts say the military has hacked away at his police power base since its takeover in May, moving many senior officers seen as in cahoots with the telecoms magnate-turned politician whose parties have won every Thai election since 2001.

The new national police chief, Somyot Poompanmoung, is believed to be close to the junta after impressing military chiefs with his handling of anti-coup protests in the wake of the army power grab.

He has vowed a harsh crackdown on police corruption.

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