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Junta bids to restore religious harmony in South

Aug 23. 2016
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THE NATIONAL Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is taking steps to solve any religious problems that the charter draft may have caused in the deep South.
Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also the deputy prime minister overseeing security affairs, said yesterday that the latest junta order is aimed at rectifying the problem in the southernmost region. 
“We have to improve the situation in southern border provinces after some groups distorted an (religious) issue, spread misunderstanding and sought to incite people,” he said. 
Asked whether the order stemmed from local people’s misunderstanding in the content of the charter draft, Prawit said: “The charter draft may not be very clear. The prime minister therefore has offered a solution. It should now be clear that the NCPO chief, Prime Minister General Prayut’s government, supports all religions.” 
On Monday, Prayut issued an order requiring all relevant agencies to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation among people practising different faiths.
Prawit yesterday said he was now confident that the situation in the deep South would improve. 
While the charter draft sailed through the public referendum earlier this month, more than half of the voters in the three southernmost provinces voted against it. 
Tensions had been rising in the deep South over Section 67 of the constitution draft, which ma ny have seen as discrimination against other religions in the country as it specifically stated that the State shall promote and support education and the propagation of Theravada Buddhism.
Udom Rathamarit, a spokesman for the charter drafters, insisted yesterday that the junta’s order was not to compensate for any shortcoming in the religious section of the charter draft. The junta was trying to create |an understanding that the state was not discriminatory, he said.
Udom said the Constitution Drafting Commission did not treat other religions differently but stressed that a majority of Thai people practised Buddhism. 
While some political observers saw the order as an attempt to ease tensions over alleged religious discrimination, one expert, Suraphot Thaweesak, said that NCPO chief’s order did not improve the situation.
He said that in a modern democratic state, the charter should stipulate only that a person is free to profess a religion. 
A modern state should not interfere with religious affairs, he said.

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