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  November 2004

Current Affairs
84 Muslim protestors die in custody in Thailand
TMW Report

At least 84 Muslims died after police and troops broke up a Muslim demonstration in Takbai district in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat on October 25, 2004.

About 76 of them died from sullocation after they were arrested and crammed into trucks one over the other by Thai soldiers for being frausported to in lessogation centre, according to international news agencies reports. Six died of bullet wounds when the Thai police fired at them to disperse the demonstration. The Muslims were demonstrating outside a police station to demand release of six of their corupatriots who had arrested by the police on a change of passing on guns stolen from the government depot, to Jihadists.

This was the second big incidents since over 100 Muslim youths were gunned to death by the police in April this year. The death toll in varian incidents during the year peas reached 430.

News agency reports datelined Pattani, southern Thailand said: Most of the victims suffocated when 1,300 detained protesters were crammed into trucks after officials used water cannon and tear gas to break up a protest outside a police station in Narathiwat province, on Mon, Oct 25.

Six were dead from the clashes. The others were crushed and suffocated, including several with broken necks, as they were taken away by trucks for questioning, according to officials.

“After we brought people who were arrested into detention, we found that another 78 people were dead,” a Justice Ministry commander of the fourth army, told the news conference.

The General did not say how many trucks were used to transport the detainees, but a witness who saw part of the incident said the victims were loaded onto at least two 10-wheel and four six-wheel trucks, all bearing army insignias. Their hands were bound with rope, the witness said on condition of anonymity.

Thai forensic scientist Pornthip Rojansunan told a press conference in Pattani that 80 per cent of the victims died because they could not breathe. “We didn’t find any bodies with broken arms or legs, but between tow or three of them had broken necks, which may have been caused from the transportation,” she said. Government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said earlier that “fasting and possible drug consumption” was the major factors behind the deaths.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, speaking before the announcement of the extra 78 deaths, said the protesters were weak because of fasting during Ramadan. “The protesters had several motives, but the main reason was separatism,” Thaksin said, “I cannot allow the separatists to exist on our land.” told reporters. He said the detainees were piled on top of each other in the back of the trucks.

The deaths occurred when the detainees, who were stripped semi-naked after their arrest, were being taken by truck to barracks in Pattani, a journey that took five hours.
Deliberate massacre

“It is a deliberate massacre. They rounded protesters up and crammed them into closed trucks. They died from lack of air,” said Ahmad Somboon Bualuang, a Muslim scholar at Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani. “We have never seen this sort of torture in Thai history before. “It is just like gassing them.”

Abdul Rahman Abdul Samed, a top Muslim official in Narathiwat, told AFP he feared the incident could spark a violent reaction. His deputy condemned the government’s comments about the effect of fasting for Ramazan. “They are youths, they should not have any problem,” said Abdul Rosa Aree. “I think the government is too fast to conclude what caused the deaths.”

PM admits ‘mistakes’
Two days later, perhaps awed by the worldwide uproar at the killings, Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed regrets over the deaths of 78 Muslim detainees, “who suffocated or were crushed while crammed into army trucks after a riot, but he insisted his security forces acted appropriately to quell the rioting.”

Hundreds of grieving relatives flocked to a military camp to claim the bodies, and outraged Islamic leaders warned the deaths could worsen sectarian violence in the Muslim-dominated south of predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

Prime minister Thaksin acknowledged there were some mistakes,” and that authorities lacked enough trucks to properly transport the nearly 1,300 detainees in southern Narathiwat province. “We are sorry for that, sorry they met an untimely death,” Thaksin told the Senate, which had demanded an explanation for the deaths.

Thaksin vowed an official investigation but insisted the military had used “the soft approach,” and that soldiers “did not fire a single round into the crowd.”

A Thai Muslim separatist organisation, the Pattani United Liberation Organisation, warned on its website that the fight would be brought to Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. The group, run by ageing Muslim exiles, is not believed to have much of a following on the ground in Thailand. “Their capital will be burnt to the ground like they did to our Pattani capital,” said the group.

Relatives wept as a police spokesman read out names of the dead outside the Inkayuth-Borihan army camp in Pattani province. Muslim resident Wadamae Hajehding, 62, traveled to the army camp in hopes of finding that his 23-year-old son was not among the dead. He said Thailand’s security forces were “too cruel.” “They treat us worse than animals,” he said.

Islamic and human rights groups in Asia expressed outrage over the grisly deaths and warned of more violence unless justice is done.

Thai Foreign Ministry's version

Meanwhile on 3 November 2004, the Royal Thai Consulate General in Karachi sent the following report released by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of Information, to the Muslim World concerning the Takbai incident:

  1. Facts
    1. On Monday. 25 October 2004, around 06.00 hrs., a crowd of around 500 protests gathered outside a police station in the Takbai district of Narathiwat province in a demonstration to release the six men detained on charges of raise statement with regard to theft of government issued weapons from community defense volunteers on 12 October 2004. By the end of noon, the crowd increased to 3,000.
    2. Around 09.00 hrs., Deputy Director of the Southern Provinces Peacekeeping Command. Mr, Siva Saengmance, negotiated with the demonstrators who ensued on their demand for the unconditional release of the six detainees, even though the authorities had already informed them that the six men would be released on bail the next day (26 October 2004). At the same time, relatives of the six detainees, Narathiwat Muslim leaders, and community leaders were also invited to help negotiate and defuse the situation peacefully, but with no avail.
    3. The situation deteriorated when the demonstrators turned violent by hurling stones at the security forces and storming die-police station at around 14.00 - 15.00 hr. Throughout the demonstration, the security forces acted in accordance with the generally accepted procedures in riot control with the attempt to disperse the crowd by first firing water cannon, then tear gas and when the demonstration turned violent the authorities were compelled to use force in order to restore public security,
    4. By 15.30 hrs,. the security forces had the situation under control. Thc clash resulted in 6 deaths, 1,298 others arrested from the demonstrators side. While on the security forces side, 14 were injured and two in serious condition. The Thai Security forces seized four M16 assault rifles, three AK-47 assault rifle, fifteen pistols, four hand grenades, and a number of cartridges and machetes at the scene of the incident as well as ejected into the nearby Takbai River which also served as a escape route for many of their members
    5. Subsequently, in the process of transporting the arrested demonstrators for further interrogation by the authorities to the Ingkayuthaboriharn army camp in Pattani province, 78 detainees died due lo a cause generally identified at this stage as asphyxiation. The total death toll resulting from the incident is 87.
      1.6 A. curfew has been issued in eight district of Narathiwat commencing on 26 October 2004 from 23,00 - 04-00 hrs.
    6. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawtra was gravely concerned with the incident and on the same day made an emergency trip to Narathiwat accompanied by Defence Minister Sumpun Boonyanum and Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula. Subsequently, on 27 Octorber 2004, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, during the queries session at the House of Senate, stated: “the situation is complexed and would not be easily resolved. All of us should try to understand the problem and dedicate everything in our disposal in resolving it. The Thai government regretes the consequences and seeks the understanding that the authorities have tried their best.”
    7. Deputy Director of the Central Insititute of Forensic Science, Dr. Pomtip Rojanasunan, describes autopsy results that suffocation and heatstroke were the most likely cause of death of the 78 detainees.
  2. Clarification
    1. It was clearly evident that the situation was premeditated and instigated as reflected in the turnout by the large number of protestor covering from a number of districts beyond Narathiwat in a very short span of time together with the: number of weapons seized by the authorities.
    2. The Government went to great efforts and exercised tremendous restraint to resolve the situation peacefully. During the negotiation, the authority informed the protestors that those arrested would be given bail the next day, but protestors refused to disperse and even became more agitated and belligerent, which they appeared to have been in a state of intoxication with some kind of stimuli which was not alcohol induced. In order lo prevent the escalation of greater chaos and political instability and to bring about overall public security and safely, the security forces had no other alternative but to follow step-by-step non-lethal approach to disperse the crowd.
    3. At this stage, it is premature to make any conclusions, particularly with regard to the death of 78 detainees. At the initial investigation, it is most likely that the deaths were caused by the way they were transported; plus a combination of a number of factors: (i) the state of the poor physical condition of the detainees suffering from exhaustion and dehydration; (ii) the authority operating the pressure of time coupled with the lack of sufficient number of trucks led to over capacity of the trucks, which may have caused the death of the detains. Negligence on the pan of the authority would not be ruled out, whereby, the investigating committee would also be addressing this particular concern. In this regard, the Thai Government announced that there; would be a committee to investigate the incident and bring light to all the facts, including the deaths of 78 detainees. The committee is headed by Mr. Siva Saengmanee to provide immediate preliminary results within two days.
    4. In summary, the following points should be emphasised. First, the Thai Government views the incident, particularly, the death of the 78 detainees as most tragic, as stated by the Prime Minister himself. Secondly, in looking at the events that transpired, one need to look at them in two ports;
      (i) controlling and managing the demonstration, in which the Thai authorities and officers involved strictly followed the rules and procedures as can be seen from the repealed attempts at negotiation and the use of non-lethal methods in riot control, but unfortunately, the six deaths were the result of the clash that erupted when a group of hard core protestors tried lo storm the police station,
      (ii) with regard to the treatment of the detainees, it is to be admitted that mistake and error of judgment were apparently made; but there was no deliberate intent, in anyway, to mistreat the detainees. Although the deaths can not be condoned, one would also have to look at the pressing circumstances that the authorities and officers in charged were operating, under, e.g. ill-trained personnel, time constraint, lack of equipment, particularly trucks, the uncertainty of the situation at the moment.
    5. This latest incident should also be viewed in the broader confer in the light of the series of unfortunate events that have afflicted the southern provinces … even chat have been clearly instigated by groups of individuals whose intent is to sow the seeds of instability and religious disharmony in the south in order to further their own political ends. Had the government not taken decisive action in this instance, which posed a direct challenge to law and order, the overall Stability and security of the southern provinces would have been greatly undermined with serious consequences for the nation as a whole.

A gross human rights violation, says WMC Secretary General

Islamabad: The massive numbers of Muslims killed in Thailand is a gross violation of human rights, said Raja Muhammad Zafarul Haq, the Secretary General of the World Muslim Congress. “It has pained me to know that they (Muslims) were first surrounded and later left to suffocate to death in police vehicles,” Raja Muhammad Zafarul Haq said. The World Muslim Congress Secretary General demanded an inquiry into the incident and said the responsible officials must be punished.
Worldwide Condemnation
Governments and human rights groups in Asia expressed outrage on the Muslim detainees in Thailand and warned of more violence unless justice is done.
Neighbouring countries urged Bangkok to prevent an escalation of the crisis, which was likened by a Malaysian religious party to a “holocaust” for Thailand’s Muslim minority.
But Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra shed few tears over the incident. Despite an expression of regret to parliament, Mr Thaksin was defiant in the faces of criticism of his attitude to human rights.

Mr Thaksin first attributed the deaths to Ramadhan fasting and then to drug use among protestors. “It was an accident during transport which happened because the time and situation was pressing. There were few vehicles available, that was why they were crammed together which made it a bit rough,” Mr Thaksin told reporters.
Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi warned his Thai counterpart that the bloodshed could spark more bloodshed.
Mr Abdullah’s government has pointed to poverty among Muslims in southern Thailand as one of the causes of unrest, and has offered to help with the region’s economic development.

Former ASEAN secretary-general Rodolfo Severino warned that unless the incident was properly investigated, Muslim minorities in Southeast Asia “will feel even more vulnerable and besieged” and “that’s a formula for trouble”.
An official of Malaysia’s opposition Islamic Party described the detainees’ deaths as “a holocaust of the modern era”.

In Indonesia, foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said Jakarta was concerned by the escalating tension in southern Thailand “but we are confident that the government of Thailand will conduct an appropriate inquiry”.

United States
The US government called for a thorough inquiry.
Iran condemned the deaths and urged the authorities to prosecute those responsible.
The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said “the latest mass killing” was the result of a weakening of controls over the police and armed forces in the restive region, and said Bangkok “has blatantly ignored the signs of impending disaster”.