Thai Land rights activists suffocated in custody

Gerrard Winstanley evnuk at
Mon Apr 4 00:51:46 BST 2005

Reminder of story from last year which had disappeared off the Diggers
350 archive. Thanks to Aljazeera.

"Thai Muslims say they have legitimate frustrations, due to economic
deprivation and the denial of land rights, freedom of religion and
language, as well as the right to run their own schools and to live a
lifestyle of their choice."

Thai Muslims suffocated in custody
Tuesday 26 October 2004 8:32 AM GMT

Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra has praised his security forces

At least 78 people have died in southern Thailand, many of them
crushed and suffocated after they were arrested and packed tightly
into trucks, officials said on Tuesday.

Dr Pornthip Rojanasunan, a well-known pathologist in Thailand, told a
news conference that she and a team of doctors conducted autopsies on
78 bodies at an army camp in Pattani province and found that most of
the dead had perished from suffocation.

"Seventy-eight people died from suffocation. We found no wounds on
their bodies," senior justice ministry official Manit Sutaporn told a
news conference in the southern town of Pattani.


The dead were among some 1300 people arrested on Monday following a
riot in Thailand's Muslim-dominated southern provinces, which have
been struck by unrest this year.

The region was rocked by sporadic violence overnight despite a curfew
imposed after clashes on Monday between security forces and
demonstrators left six dead and dozens injured.


Police had said the situation was under control on Tuesday morning
after the biggest outbreak of violence between the authorities and
disaffected Muslims since a day-long clash in April left 108 dead.


Cause of violence


The violence erupted late on Monday after a six-hour demonstration
held by about 2000 protesters outside a police station in Narathiwat
province's Takbai district to call for the release of six detained
security volunteers accused of giving their weapons to insurgents.


Thai police and military forces say they tried to disperse the crowd
with gunshots, water cannons and tear gas canisters.

Witnesses say the police fired live rounds into the air and at the crowd.

Commander General Sirichai Thanyasiri, who heads a new task force to
improve security in the southern provinces, said:

Rights groups have accused
Thailand of heavy-handedness
"The leaders and core members who created the riot will be put on
trial and the unwitting followers will be released soon, but I cannot
say exactly when."


Abd al-Rahman Abd al-Samad, chairman of the Islamic Council of
Narathiwat province, said the security forces should have acted with
greater restraint.

"I think the armed forces overreacted by using force to disperse the
protesters," he said.

"If they were more patient and used a softer approach, the incident
would not have ended up with lost lives and arrests.

"Some were demonstrators, some were people who went to watch what was
going on and there were innocent people affected by the crackdown."

Rights activists have accused the authorities of heavy-handed tactics
in the south, including the storming of a 16th century mosque that
left 32 people dead in an April massacre where the total death toll
was 108.

Mosque massacre

Southern Thai Muslims remain anguished over the massacre at the
historic mosque in the province of Pattani, he said.

Muslims say the memory of the
mosque massacre is still fresh

"The memory is still fresh, and with the latest killings, I am afraid
that there will be more violence and revenge from Muslim people," Abd
al-Samad said.

At the time, Thailand's national human rights commissioner, Wasant
Panich, reportedly said he had documented many accounts from witnesses
that police had often killed suspects who were incapable of fighting back.


Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra then defended the actions of
his security forces and refused to heed a UN call for a probe into the

The premier, who rushed to the scene of this week's violence before
returning to Bangkok late on Monday, insisted the crackdown was justified.


"We cannot allow these people to harass innocent people and
authorities any longer," Thaksin said.

"We cannot tolerate these bad things any longer. The bad-intentioned
people instigate the youths to create violence and chaos, so we have
no choice but to use force to suppress them," he added.

Thai Muslims say they have legitimate frustrations, due to economic
deprivation and the denial of land rights, freedom of religion and
language, as well as the right to run their own schools and to live a
lifestyle of their choice.

Muslim leaders had also issued statements saying the way to peace is
to address their long-standing grievances.


They say that governments have found it more convenient to join the
US-led western chorus and simply branded them as "militants or
terrorists" and by so doing, giving themselves the licence to harass
and violate the basic human rights of innocent people.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other rights groups have consistently
been reporting cases of torture, kidnapping and disproportionate force
by Thai security personnel.


Malaysia concerned

Malaysian Foreign Minister Albar 
says his country is concerned

Following yesterday's violence Malaysia expressed concern over the
latest clash in its northern neighbour.


"The flare up in southern Thailand is a matter of concern to us,"
Foreign Minister Sayyid Hamid Albar said on Tuesday.

"Thailand is a close neighbour. Any incidents will be watched closely

He added that Kuala Lumpur was working closely with Bangkok to develop
the troubled south so that economic prosperity would bring peace to
the region.



Shinawatra hosted talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi at the resort island of Phuket earlier this month to flesh out
development plans for the three southernmost Thai provinces.


"We are sad there has been an incident. We will wait and see what had
happened," Syed Hamid said.

Police Major General Kamon Bhotiyop, commander of police in
Narathiwat, said on Tuesday that the police and army had set up
security checkpoints and the situation had calmed.


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