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Killings At Pattani's Krue Se Mosque And A Cover Up Enquiry
06 May, 2004

On 4 May 2004, the government of Thailand has set up an independent commission to inquire into the killings of 32 assailants inside Pattani's historic Krue Se mosque in Southern Thailand on 28 April 2004. Headed by Suchinda Yongsunthon, a former diplomat currently on the bench of the Constitution Court, the inquiry commission consists of six persons out of which four are Muslims: Asis Pitakkhumpol, Chairman of the Songkhla Islamic Committee; Mahadee Wimanee, a former ambassador to Iran; Aree Wong-araya, a former Permanent Secretary for the interior; and Charan Mululeem, an academic and adviser to the Prime Minister. The sixth member is Phummarat Thaksadipong, a former director of the National Intelligence Agency.

According to government spokesman Jakrapob Penkhair, the commission will "probe into the incident to find the persons or agencies who should take responsibility for possible legal implications." By including a large number of Muslims, Thailand government sought to gain legitimacy for the inquiry. However, the inquiry appears to be an afterthought to deflect concerns of the Malays in Malaysia and international community rather than a zeal to establish the truth and justice. Earlier on 1 May 2004, the Thailand government has reportedly banned the foreign media from entering military precincts in the South.

The Uprising and the killings

The Thai authorities claimed that unidentified Islamic groups armed with machetes launched simultaneous pre-dawn attacks on police bases and checkpoints in several districts of Yala, Pattani and Songkhla provinces in southern Thailand on 28 April 2004. A total of 106 suspected assailants, most between 15 and 20 years of age, and five security officers were killed, six were injured and 17 were arrested. The security forces justified the killings as self-defence. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra termed the assailants as bandits and described the attack as handiwork of the drug lords.

Between 4 am and 4.30 am on 28 April 2004, the assailants reportedly attacked Mae Laen Police station, Yarrang Irrigation Office and a security check point in Pattani and killed 4 policemen and two officials. The assailants also reportedly snatched guns from the security forces. At about 5 am, the assailants reportedly took shelter inside the Krue Se mosque and by 6 am the army cordoned off the mosque. The standoff between the security forces and the assailants lasted for around nine hours until about 2 pm when the army captured the mosque after killing 32 assailants using teargas and rocket propelled grenades.

Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh reportedly ordered Gen Panlop Pinmanee, Deputy Director of the Internal Security Operations Command and the most senior person present during the standoff, to negotiate with the assailants and talk them into surrendering, no matter how long it took. However, the army used disproportionate force even after the assailants had stopped shooting. On 29 April 2004, Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh reportedly ordered General Panlop Pinmanee to leave immediately. General Pinmanee later defended himself, saying if the occupation of the mosque was allowed to continue into the night the situation would have become more complicated as groups of people, including teenagers, were gathering around the place. It is clear that the security forces had used disproportionate force in clear violations of the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

The reports emanating following the shoot-out are disturbing. Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee during a hearing in the Senate on the issue on 3 May 2004 stated that most of those killed at Krue Se Mosque were shot in the head and there were traces that a rope had been tied around the wrists of an armed opposition group who was killed in another area of Pattani.

Cover-Up Commission?

The commission of inquiry inquiring into the killings at Pattani's Krue Se mosque is restrictive, unrepresentative and inconsistent with international standards on independence and impartiality for holding such inquiries. Although four members out of the six members of the Inquiry Commission are Muslims, majority of them are government servants. The non-inclusion of a representative from Pattani where the killings took place shows that the government is on the defensive. In addition, the government has undermined the inquiry commission through inclusion of Phummarat Thaksadipong, a former director of the National Intelligence Agency. The government however did not include any member of the National Human Rights Commission. Although, clashes and killings took place all over Pattani, Songkhla and Yala provinces, the mandate of the commission is restricted to the killings at the Krue Se mosque.

Thailand's poor human rights record

Since a raid on military camp in Narathiwat on 4 January 2004, about 180 people have been killed. The government declared emergency and intensified repression including gross and widespread human rights violations. On 12 March 2004, prominent civil liberties activist and Muslim lawyer, Somchai Neelaphaijit disappeared in mysterious circumstances on his way to the home of a friend. His car was found later abandoned. Chairman of the Muslim Law Professionals' Association and Vice-Chairman of the Human Rights committee of the Law Society of Thailand, Neelaphaijit was involved in obtaining 50,000 signatures from around the country to support an end to martial law in the Southern Thailand and promotion of the rule of law and justice for the Muslim suspects accused of terrorism and treason.

Police investigators have arrested three middle-ranking officers with the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) and a sergeant-major from the Tourism Police and transferred three other CSD officers on suspicions of involvement in the abduction of Somchai Neelaphaijit. However, little progress has been made about Somchai Neelaphaijit's whereabouts, or determining what happened on the night of his abduction. On 28 March 2004, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who treated the reports of Somchai Neelaphaijit's disappearance almost dismissively in the beginning set one week deadline for completion of the inquiry.

Earlier, a senate committee conducting its own independent investigation into the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit complained against the lack of cooperation among state investigators. Dr Pornthip Rojanasunant, Deputy Director of the Central Forensic Science Institute also complained of the difficulty in obtaining information from the police about Neelaphaijit's case. Presently, the Royal Thai Police Office, the Metropolitan Police Bureau, the Crime Suppression Division, the Special Investigations Department, the Scientific Crime Detection Division and the Central Forensic Science Institute are also holding seperate inquiries into the disappearance of Neelaphaijit. In all likelihood, all these agencies will draw conflicting conclusions to the advantage of the government and its agencies.

History's lessons

Fifty six years ago, on 26 April 1948, villagers from Dusongyaw, Narathiwat rose up against the perceived persecution of Muslims by government officials. The protests became violent as clashes broke out between armed villagers and security forces. The rebellion was also crushed on 28 April 1948. The government of Field Marshal Pibulsongram said that between 30 and 100 Muslim villagers were killed. However, some studies opined that up to 400 Muslim villagers were mowed in the crackdown.

In the post September 11th period, it has become fashionable in South East Asia to link all violent actions with Jemaah Islamiah. Unfortunately, the root causes of the problems in Southern Thailand cannot be addressed by such fashionable nonsense.

The fact that institutions which represent Siam - schools, Buddhist temples and police and military stations have been special target - shows that the Thai suzerainty over erstwhile Pattani Darussalam is yet to take a full circle. The sense of insecurity in Southern Thailand cannot be addressed by arming teachers with guns as directed by Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula prior to the start of the Thailand's new school year on 3 May 2004 or through reinforcement of the Rapid Deployment Force for protection of the teachers. If the government of Thailand is serious to start a process to assuage the sense of discrimination and deprivation of the Malay origin Thais, it must conduct full and transparent inquiries into the circumstances leading upto the killings on 28 April 2004, ensure full cooperation from security forces including providing of the post mortems reports to the Commission, allow interviews with those arrested on 28 April 2004 without the presence of the security forces and provide full guarantees for safety and security to those who depose before the Commission. The question is whether the victims, their relatives or eye-witnesses will feel safe, in the light of the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit, to speak the truth before a commission of the former bureaucrats including the former Chief of the National Intelligence Agency. The inquiry report into the disappearances of Somchai Neelaphaijit will be the starting point for the Thai government.

[A weekly feature service of Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR)C-3/441-C (Adjoining C-3 DESU Complaint Office), Janakpuri, New Delhi-110058, IndiaPhone: +91-11-25620583, 25503626; Fax: +91-11-25620583

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