Boys rescued from cave, once stateless, get Thai citizenship


BANGKOK (AP) — Three young soccer players who were trapped with other team members for almost three weeks in a cave in northern Thailand were granted Thai citizenship today along with their 25-year-old coach.

All four had been stateless, and their lack of citizenship deprived them of some basic benefits and rights, including the ability to travel outside of Chiang Rai, the northern province where they live. The area is home to ethnic minorities with roots in neighboring Myanmar.

The boys and coach were among 13 people who were trapped in the cave until their dramatic rescue by scuba divers.

Nopparat Kanthawong, the head coach of the Wild Boars team, said they received official Thai ID cards along with another team member who had not been in the cave but also applied for citizenship.

"I'm happy," he said. "I want to say that football [soccer] can elevate the lives of kids whose families may not be in the best position."

"If they have Thai citizenship, in the future, if they don't want to play football they can take exams to become public officials or find good work that is related to their field of studies," he said.

Nopparat said he submitted documentation today to help apply for citizenship for seven other Wild Boar players who are stateless.

The boys given citizenship in their home district of Mae Sai had all applied for it before the cave incident, and all were fully qualified for the change in status, said a local official, district chief Somsak Kanakam.

"There are many people who are born in Thailand but haven't received citizenship yet," he said, adding that residents seeking Thai nationality should apply quickly, while he still holds his job, because he has "no corrupt intentions." He said that most people present today's ceremony were aware of under-the-table payments that some officials had asked for in the past.

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