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Coach Ek the unlikely stateless hero of Thai cave drama

AFP  |  Mae Sai 

Schooled as a monk and now hailed a hero, is one of several members of the "Wild Boars", a team whose survival after days trapped in a flooded Thai cave fixated a country that does not recognise them as citizens.

Ek, the 25-year-old who was among the last to emerge from the cave yesterday, has been lauded for keeping the the young footballers -- aged 11-16 -- calm as loomed in the dark.

He was the only adult with the boys when they entered the cave on June 23 until they were found nine days later by British divers on a deep inside the cave complex.

As he awaited his turn to undertake the dangerous exit from the Tham Luang complex, Thais on the outside celebrated him as a modest, devout and duty-bound member of the community.

"From all the parents, please take care of all the children. Don't blame yourself," said a letter to him from the boys' relatives released July 7.

In reply he scrawled a note apologising to the parents, and vowing to take "the very best care of the kids."

The touching note won the hearts of the Thai public -- a group to which he is yet to officially belong.

says is home to around 480,000 people. Many are from nomadic hill tribes and other ethnic groups who have for centuries lived around Mae Sai, the heart of the "Golden Triangle" -- a lawless wedge of land bisecting Thailand, Myanmar, and

Among the are and three of the boys who were trapped in the cave alongside him -- Dul, Mark and Tee -- the founder of the club told AFP.

"To get nationality is the biggest hope for the the past these boys have problems travelling to play matches outside of Chiang Rai," he added, because of that accompany their lack of status.

Without passports they are unlikely to be able to take up the invite from Manchester United FC to visit next season.

"They also can't become professional players because they don't have the (correct) status," he said, adding the process has begun to try to get them nationality.

There are hopes the boys' ordeal will lead to a change of policy. Ek, who is ethnic Tai Lue, is yet to give his version of the remarkable events of the last few weeks.

A novice monk for several years from the age of 10, left the Buddhist clergy before becoming a full monk in order to look after his grandmother in

Later he became a coach with the He is fond of meditation, trekking and the outdoor life, according to monk who roomed with his namesake as a novice.

"We would trek to the jungle, he would always bring a thumb-sized parcel of chilli paste and sticky rice and we would stay there for a couple of days," he recalled of his friend.

As a coach he is regarded as a willing to help even the least skilled kids. But as a citizen of nowhere he cannot yet gain his full coaching qualifications. "He is stateless. No nationality. No country," added Wild Boars' founder Nopparat.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, July 11 2018. 17:25 IST