Conscripts have DNA samples taken

Conscripts have DNA samples taken

Yala: A senior army officer admitted yesterday that DNA samples were being collected with consent from those going through this year's conscript selection process in the deep South to form a DNA database of people in the violence-plagued region.

Col Chalat Sriwichian, deputy commander of the Yala Task Force, said DNA collection was introduced this year in the three southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani and four districts of Songkhla.

He insisted it was voluntary and would be later expanded to other provinces.

The move has sparked concern among human rights advocates who questioned whether the collection of DNA is lawful and feared the database could be misused.

Col Chalat said the new database would help security authorities solve violent crimes in connection with insurgent unrest. Over the past 15 years, the region has been plagued by terrorism-related crimes and the detention of suspected insurgents and their sympathisers was often supported by forensic evidence and DNA testing.

"The collection and testing of DNA samples over the past four days of the conscription process are voluntary. We didn't force our young brothers to undergo DNA testing. We explained to them and they understood and cooperated," he said.

"In some areas where they didn't want to submit DNA samples, we left them alone even though we think they should have cooperated," he said.

According to Col Chalat, in Yala where 3,677 people were required to undergo conscription selection, about 1% refused to submit DNA samples.

"We don't see them as suspects. But security officials may have suspicions about why they refused," he said.

He added that security officers based in the deep South including volunteer rangers and defence volunteers have to submit DNA samples and their weapons are also examined.

He said the DNA and weapon tests were useful in proving their innocence when accused of wrongdoing.

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