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Phuket Opinion: One armed force too many

PHUKET: The presence of military-style uniforms as “law enforcement” on Bangla Rd, Patong, this week harked back to the beginning of some of the darkest chapters in administration in Thailand’s recent history, plainly highlighting the exact need of why these uniformed personnel must go.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 20 November 2022, 09:00AM

Military fatigues on Bangla Rd is not what Phuket needs. Photo: Kathu District Office

Military fatigues on Bangla Rd is not what Phuket needs. Photo: Kathu District Office

Personnel from the local branch of the Volunteer Defense Corps (OrSor) are now being regularly called in to “assist” police in having so-called “random” drug tests performed on staff at night entertainment venues on Bangla Rd.

There is so much wrong with this that it is difficult to know where to begin. First, as plainly shown by even official photographs of the “random” tests, the OrSor were not “assisting” with anything. They were conducting the operation themselves, under orders from the Kathu District Chief, with police officers present only to officially sanction their actions as “law enforcement”.

Worse, the people were not randomly selected at all. They were singled out from a list drafted by the local District Office. Seriously, we now have local officials singling out individuals for processing by a paramilitary unit – and yes, the OrSor is a paramilitary unit. Take just 10 seconds and think of other countries where this happens.

The OrSor are not military, or police. They are a militia of “volunteers”, meaning only they were not conscripted. Named in full as Kong Asa Raksa Dindaen, they are more easily identified by the white elephant on the patches on their uniforms.

As explained earlier this week, they operate under the Ministry of Interior. The local branches report to the District Chief, and in turn to the provincial governor, and ultimately operate under the Minister of Interior, currently Gen Anupong Paochinda.

Established under the Volunteer Corps Act 1954, the OrSor was set up by the government specifically to counter communist threats and attacks at the village level at the time. Officially, their main duty is to maintain the interior security of the nation at war time or from natural disaster. With no war or disaster to attended to, they are called on to assist police and officials in law enforcement and render assistance to villagers in case they are under threat from disaster or a common armed force.

The OrSor is literally an army in waiting, and the white elephant remaining on their shoulders is not a coincidence. Why they still exist begs the question of how much a superior authority in the capital does not trust the armed forces or the police force to maintain the peace if push comes to shove.

As Thailand has repeatedly shown, it has a military that is more than willing to run the country – without opposition or support from the OrSor, showing just how unnecessary they are. In parallel, police have long been a force unto themselves.

What’s worse with the OrSor is that without being called upon to fight a common enemy, or assist agencies in times of natural disaster, they tend to be put to use as a show of strength by local officials carving out their own presence away from the capital. This, Phuket does not need.

Calling in the OrSor for “weapons and drugs checks”, as conducted on Bangla Rd this week, is not new. We’ve been down this road before. The move is very reminiscent of both the ‘Better Social Order’ and the ensuing ‘War on Drugs’ campaigns under the Thaksin administration.

Under the former, nightlife raids saw venue doors locked and all people, including foreigners, being forced to undergo mandatory urine tests on site. The latter saw some 2,800 extrajudicial killings in its first three months. Not all the triggers were pulled by police. Once OrSor are “deputised”, they simply follow orders.

Instead of glorifying the OrSor in “supporting officials” carrying out their duties, the OrSor needs to be shut down. There is no reason for them to exist. Existing “volunteers” wanting legalised gunplay can join the military, those not willing to commit to that level of discipline can join the police, while those wanting to help people in times of dire need can join the Civil Defense Volunteers and support the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM) to do the greater good.

If any local officials feels that their authority is not being taken seriously when they are not accompanied by personnel in military-style uniforms, then the problem is much more serious than just image and a photo opportunity – and should be treated as such. Call in the right agencies to deal with the problem, not some anachronism from the last century that only highlights how many armed forces are still available at whim within the country.

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JohnC | 21 November 2022 - 09:46:26

Good article PN. Lots of questions brought up that as yet have no clear answers from those "in charge". All this smoke and mirrors to try and make APEC attendees think the Thai gov is strong and in control ready to take action. LOL.

Pascale | 20 November 2022 - 20:43:26

At least the OrSor is under government control unlike all those paramilitary groups in the USA. Those fascistic far right groups who like to play war every other weekend with real guns at their private training camps. What they are able to do we not just know since the storming of the Capitol. Compared to those the OrSor isn't even worse to mention in an opinion article. 

Kamala Pete | 20 November 2022 - 14:37:50

Straighten the record. The tourist police expats in Kamala are neither wannabes nor bullies They act as a buffer between the TPF and (usually drunken) tourists and do a great job of keeping them out of prison or protected from extortion. 

cheez | 20 November 2022 - 10:56:40

When two or more separate authorities hold the same authority, the surplus authorities are unnecessary.

Fascinated | 20 November 2022 - 10:27:08

Of note the Police in Kamala were conducting drug tests in the bars- there was no closing or doors or intimidation, just cops, albeit a large number of them.

Fascinated | 20 November 2022 - 10:25:34

The article is fundamentally flawed, they are NOT an armed force. They are just a bunch of wannabe's who like to dress up and bully people. Very similar to Expats who join the Tourist Police as Volunteer Assistants and then claim to be cops- I even saw one wearing military medals on his uniform!   The only good volunteers I have seen here in Phuket are the assistants at Immigration.

Kurt | 20 November 2022 - 10:05:35

As OrSor seems to be a club that volunteers also in handling natural disasters, why they not show up when Patong RTP/Patong Hospital area, time after time again, again, and again get flooded   just during a less than 2 hours of rain, clean/poke the drains, etc. in a important area ( RTP law enforcement office/hospital) instead creating a unpleasant atmosphere at Bangla?

Kurt | 20 November 2022 - 09:11:56

Great Opinion piece. It is exactly how I felt already last Thursday when I read the article and seen the photos of this army at Bangla and urine tests.
If these 'volunteers' have to be given some work, post them at Phuket airport to check incoming Taxis/Vans on weapons and drugs use. There is a job to do. To protect the tourists.


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