15 Dec 2011

Child Soldiers in Thailand

The armed teenagers patrolling Thailand’s southern borderlands with state-backed militias are not kidnapped or brainwashed. They aren’t pumped full of drugs and few, if any, have ever killed.

Still, they operate with grown, gun-toting men defending against Asia’s bloodiest Islamic insurgency. And their dissimilarity with the world’s more horrific examples of child soldiering — think Burma or Liberia — is part of the reason they remain largely ignored.


Just as Thailand’s militia kids are overlooked, so is the conflict that has sucked them in. A little-known rebellion along the Thai-Malaysia border seeks to turn a Connecticut-sized territory into the world’s newest Islamic state. Since 2004, the insurgency has left roughly 4,800 dead.

The rebels’ daily shootings, bombings or stabbings have stoked paranoia among their targets: “infidels,” Thai Buddhists, and their “running dogs,” non-separatist Muslims with ties to the government.

To bolster forces, Thailand’s government has helped organize and arm a patchwork of self-defense militias, amounting to roughly 50,000 men and women, that patrol villages with shotguns and rifles.

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