Anniversary of Tak Bai incident marked with lawsuits

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Marking the anniversary of an incident at Tak Bai police station which led to 78 people suffocating while being detained by the Thai army, relatives of the deceased plan to file a lawsuit with the Pattani provincial court seeking 80 million baht (approx. US$2 million, 1.6 million euro) in compensation.

Utt Bueraheng, the lawyer representing the families is confident they will win their case as an investigation into the incident took some disciplinary action against involved senior officers.

The suit will name the Thai Defence Ministry, Army, Royal Thai Police Office, Interior Ministry, and Narathiwat provincial authorities as defendants. Earlier in the week other lawsuits were filed in relation to the incident; in all cases the named defendants are the same.

The Tak Bai incident is one of the most publicised events of the South Thailand insurgency. On October 25, 2004 six local men were arrested, accused of supplying defence force weapons to insurgents. Villagers organised a protest, demanding that the police release the accused. Instead, the police called in army reinforcements who used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd; shooting started, and seven people were killed.

Hundreds of local citizens, mostly young Muslim men, were arrested. They were made to strip to the waist and lie on the ground. Their hands were bound behind their backs and later in the afternoon they were loaded into trucks to be taken to an army camp where they were to be detained. The prisoners were stacked on top of each other in the trucks, and by the time the three-hour trip to the camp was completed, 78 men had suffocated in the heat.

The incident provoked widespread protest, not limited to Muslims in the south. Many non-Muslim Thais were shocked by the army's behaviour. However the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Sinawatra, gave his full support to the army and until these lawsuits were brought, very little disciplinary action had been taken against those responsible. Thaksin's response in defending the army's actions was to say the men died, "because they were already weak from fasting during the month of Ramadan."

The lawsuits brought earlier this week against the five state agencies seek a total of more than eighteen million baht (approx. US$ 440,000 or 370,000 euros) in compensation. The first lawsuit was filed on behalf of relatives of five of the seven protesters killed outside Tak Bai police station; this suit seeks 5.8 million baht. The second lawsuit was filed by a group of seventeen of the protesters who were injured in the clash with police and security forces; this suit seeks 12.4 million baht compensation for injury and loss of property. All of the lawsuits have been brought with the assistance of the Law Society of Thailand.

The aftermath of the Tak Bai incident saw many of the protesters seeking asylum in neighbouring Malaysia. Recently forty of those who had fled across the border returned after they had been given assurances by authorities regarding their safety.

The leadership of the insurgents remains unclear, with no clearly identified organisational structure, or announced objectives. However, there have been separatists in the former Malay sultanate since the 1930s. Under military rule, they were firmly suppressed and only since early 2004 has violence flared in the troubled provinces. The government reacted to this by declaring Martial law in January of 2004.

Despite the imposition of Martial law, attacks on police, government officials, schools and military compounds continued unabated. This prompted the Prime Minister to introduce an executive decree for administration in emergency situations early in 2005. Additional troops were dispatched to the troubled provinces bringing the total in the area to 30,000; however, lack of counter-insurgency training and experience meant they have done little in the way of quelling the violence. In the past six months the army has reported that 298 have been killed, and over 300 injured in attacks. The estimated total killed since the start of 2004 is claimed to be over one thousand.


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