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Thailand: Tech school wars

A violent coming-of-age for the boys who power Thailand’s industrial sector.

“After they graduate, the problems disappear,” said Tatree Darat, an instructor at Bang Kapi Technology School, where two of the bus shooting suspects attended.

“These boys leave here to go work for Toyota, Honda and Izuzu, working right beside guys from rival schools,” he said. “Like nothing ever happened.”

Before the bus killing, the most infamous flare-up of trade school tension was last year’s all-out melee in front of MBK, a heavily touristed downtown mall. The roughly 100-student battle erupted just days after boys from rival schools were summoned for a truce involving a public exchange of flowers.

Interviewed outside their schools this week, few vocational students would discuss details of their violent rivalries.

One student, identified by friends as a brawler in the MBK shopping mall fight and who grew terse when questioned, claimed to suddenly recall a doctors’ appointment and ran off. Others claimed, quite dubiously, to have never even heard of the widely publicized mall melee.

“It’s really only about 10 percent of students that like to fight. The rest of us just watch our backs and get home quickly,” said Chanu Praitheun, a 17-year-old student at Chao Phraya Technical School. “Sometimes they’re fighting over a girl. But most of the time it’s over nothing.”

Authorities responded quickly to this month’s bus shooting, arresting two teenage suspects the next day and shutting down the institution that both attended.

Incensed by the shooting, Thailand’s education minister suggested a scared straight-style intervention: bussing the worst offenders to Thailand’s dangerous deep south, where Islamic insurgents have carried out near-daily murders. (That proposal was later withdrawn after media criticism.) In coming weeks, the minister will summon administrators from 40 violence-prone schools to parliament for a session on stopping school feuds.

But officials’ reactions have failed to inspire confidence in Bangkok residents. More than 87 percent surveyed by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University in the wake of the bus shooting said authorities have done nothing to solve tech school violence.

“I tired of it, what if I get hit one day?” said Tacharee Nidam, a 20-year-old female student who uses the same bus line struck by Jatuporn’s killers.

“If I see a bunch of tech school kids on the bus, I’m hardly brave enough to hop on,” she said. “But what can I do? I have to ride the bus.”