The gruesome decapitation of two paramilitary rangers killed Monday in an ambush by suspected militants in Yarang district of Pattani, must have struck fear into locals in the deep South just as it must have provoked outrage among the security forces battling a protracted insurgency war.
Likewise, the alleged extra-judicial killings of a partially disabled Muslim and an Islamic religious teacher in January must have fuelled the deeply-entrenched mistrust of the local Muslims against the security forces and state mechanisms.
The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) which oversees military operations in the deep South believes that the beheading and burning of the two rangers, a Buddhist and a Muslim, were an act of revenge by the militants against the Jan 17 suspicious killing of Abdul Kasi Kongsathien, whose family members and neighbours in Yarang district claim was crippled in both hands and thus physically unable to fire a gun.
The other victim, Islamic religious teacher Abdul Karim Yusoh, was gunned down in front of a mosque in Sai Buri district of Pattani on Jan 30 by assailants firing assault rifles from a pickup truck. Imam Yusoh had served one year in prison on a charge of illegal possession of war weapons and was released three months ago after the court acquitted him due to insufficient evidence. The imam reportedly told local media shortly before his death that he feared for his life and had to shift from house to house for his own security.
The security forces maintain Abdul Kasi Kongsathien’s hands were not crippled and that he could fire a gun. Laboratory tests detected traces of gunpowder on his hands. Also, the revolver seized from the victim was said to have been used in the commission of several crimes, with at least five killed. Moreover, Cpl Visanusilp Kaewman, the soldier who engaged in the gun duel with Abdul Kasi Kongsathien and who sustained a gunshot wound to the right elbow, claimed he was shot first when he chased the man into a rubber plantation. Coincidentally, Abdul Kasi Kongsathien’s father, Ahmad, was shot dead by security forces in a similar manner over a year ago.
In light of the conflicting accounts from security forces and the victim’s relatives, a promise given by the commander of Task Force 43, Maj-Gen Kasikorn Khirisri, to investigate the death of Abdul Kasi Kongsathien will not suffice and is not likely to convince locals that they will be given the justice they seek.
Thus the call for an independent panel to probe the two alleged extra-judicial killings, from rights advocacy groups and students of Prince of Songkla University’s Pattani Campus, is valid and should be heeded by the military.
Also needed is another independent committee to monitor and assess military policy and operations in the deep South which have adversely affected the livelihood of people there.
Of some 3,400 people who died from the violence in the strife-torn deep South since 2004, more than half were Muslims and many of them civilians who were caught in the middle of the increasingly dirty war which has forced many unfortunate civilians to take sides against their will.
Although these latest cases of alleged extra-judicial killing may represent the tip of the iceberg of many unsolved and suspicious murders, there is an urgent need to clear the air so the truth can be told and justice accordingly served. Short of that, all efforts by the military to win the hearts and minds of local Muslims will be a complete waste