26 October 2008


Justice in South still poor, advocates say



Peace advocates in Bangkok and the far South yesterday called for better justice to prevent future tragedies in the restive region.

They were commenting on the 4th anniversary of the Tak Bai clash. On Oct 25, 2004, 78 Muslim protesters died, mostly from suffocation, when authorities dispersed them from a police station and transported them on military trucks to the Ingkhayuthaboriharn military camp in Nong Chik district in Pattani province.

Before the crackdown that day, about 1,000 Muslim villagers had gathered in front of the Tak Bai district police station in Narathiwat demanding the release of six village defence volunteers arrested in connection with the theft of some weapons.

Their campaign for peace came as violence continued in the southernmost provinces. One policeman died and four soldiers were injured in a clash on Friday night in Nong Chik district with insurgent suspects.

In Bangkok, human rights advocates called for an independent agency to handle future incidents when protesters die and are injured in clampdowns by authorities.

Angkhana Neelaphaijit, chairwoman of the Working Group on Justice for Peace, said a new panel was necessary as authorities had failed to find the truth about those who ordered the clash at Tak Bai, including the decision to take the protesters to the military camp.

This was despite the fact that three panels had looked into the crackdown.

The first panel chaired by then ombudsman Pichet Sunthornpipit, was appointed by the government led by then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The second one was under the National Human Rights Commission, and the last one was led by then Bangkok senator Chirmsak Pinthong.

She said the three committees were given no power to bring those found involved to justice.

“Our country needs a truly independent body to deal with future crowd dispersal incidents and such a body should have its own authority to punish those involved,” she said.

Surichai Wankaeo, director of the Social Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of political science, said memories of Tak Bai were still raw four years on.

The Students Federation of Thailand and the Muslim Student Association in the three Muslim-dominated provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat also held activities to commemorate the Tak Bai massacre by marching from Thammasat University to the United Nations building.

Atep Soko, secretary-general to the Students Federation of Thailand, said violence remained in the deep South due to the government’s failure “to win the hearts and minds” of local people.

In Yala, a civic group gathered at the provincial Islamic Committee office to raise money to help poor people get better access to justice.

The fund would help people who fall victim to unfair treatment in relation to the insurgency, but cannot afford to fight their accusers in court.

“Communities have lost trust in the government after facing unfair accusations and treatment,” said social activist Pornpen Kongkajornkiat. They also prayed for the Tak Bai victims and launched a campaign to raise public awareness of the incident.

Meanwhile, a gunfight between police, soldiers and insurgents on Friday at Ban Pakaluesong in Nong Chik district in Pattani led to the death of one policeman with four soldiers injured.

Later, two suspects were killed in a gunfight at a house in the village.

Pol Lt Somnuek Masawaeng, who died at the scene, was shot in the face as his team raided a house where suspects on arrest warrants were hiding.

Fourth Army commander Lt-Gen Pichet Wisaijorn said tear gas failed to force them out and when soldiers charged inside, another gunfight broke out.

Finally, officers had to throw a grenade inside.

The attack killed the gunmen, identified as Masuki Arong and Ariya Salae.

Police said the two suspects were well-trained militant leaders in Yala. Many types of ammunition were seized from another house owned by the assistant village head of Ban Phum Nam Phung, in Pattani’s Yaring district.