Ex-US base 'not secret prison'
Army set to open up compound to tourism
The army will open an old US military base suspected of housing a secret prison in Udon Thani as a tourist attraction, expelling any suspicions about the existence of secret US detention and interrogation facilities in Thailand.
Army commander Chalermchai Sitthisad has instructed the 2nd Army Region to renovate the former US military base and radar station in tambon Nonsoong of Muang district and turn it into a museum and tourist site.
With 12 million baht budget from the army and another 14 million baht from the tambon Nonsoong administrative organisation, the premises formerly known as Ramasun Station is undergoing finishing touches and will open to the public on Saturday.
It is believed the renovation project is to put to bed rumours and suspicions surrounding the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)'s black sites in the northeastern province.
Ramasun Station, or the 7th Radio Research Field Station, is one of three secured establishments suspected to host such a secret prison.
The two others are the camp of the 13th Artillery Battalion of the army, which is about 13km away from Ramasun camp, and Wing 23 which is under supervision of the air force.
Thai governments and military leaders strongly deny the existence of facilities that harbour such secret activities.
Ramasun camp reportedly gained attention in 2003 when it was suspected to house a secret prison set up by the US' CIA following the arrest of Hambali, the region's most wanted terrorism suspect, in Ayutthaya.
It was reported that Hambali was taken promptly into US custody and flown to an undisclosed location for interrogation.
Since then, when there are reports about the capture of suspected terrorists in the region, Thailand is rumoured to be a place where the suspects are interrogated and tortured in a "black site".
Lt Col Ratkrit Daengthaisong, commander of 1st Battalion of the 13rd Infantry Regiment which supervises Ramasun camp, has rejected reports that the compound harbours a secret facility.
"I think it is because the compound is off-limits to outsiders while local people are aware of an underground tunnel. That may give them a sense of secrecy," said the officer who has served as the battalion commander for four years.
The 300-metre underground tunnel is not a passage, he said. It is used to store communications cables.
According to Lt Col Ratkrit, he heard about the secret prison at the camp and tried to look for evidence, but came up with nothing.
He talked to several old-timers at the camp and none were aware of secret activities and especially the alleged detention and torture of Hambali. He also met some former GIs who visited the place and no one had heard of or saw any detention in the camp.
"So we will open Ramasun camp to the public and let them see for themselves. You'll see a radar building surrounded by giant radar towers and a 300-metre underground tunnel," he said.
He said five officers have been trained as tour guides to give information about the old US camp which housed sleeping quarters, a theatre, a PX (a retail store found United States military installations worldwide), a training gym, a swimming pool, a tennis court, and an arms depot.
Ramasun camp itself is a historical attraction built in 1964 by the US military during the Indo China war for radio communications and spying operations.
After the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam in 1975, the US military premises was handed over to the army and placed under supervision of the 3rd Infantry Division.
In 1983, it became the base of 1st Battalion of the 13rd Infantry Regiment and in August 1997, it was royally bestowed the name Sunthondhammathada Camp.
It was reported that the US military purchased the 800-rai plus plot from a villager known only as Sa for US$400. The name was derived from the Thai folk-lore Ramasun, god of thunder, and Mekkhala, goddess of lightening.
He stressed the tourist site and museum project is not to focus or highlight the armed conflict in the region, just historical values of the place and its role in the development of Udon Thani province.