An official report by a government-appointed investigative team released by the National Reconciliation Commission on Sunday has confirmed a number of suspicions and allegations regarding the crackdown on protesters outside Narathiwat’s Tak Bai police station last October.
The report also points the finger at certain senior military officers, including the then Fourth Army Region commander General Pisarn Wattanawongkiri.
The fact-finding committee and its four sub-committees have compiled a report with four sections: the introduction, the facts regarding the Tak Bai demonstration, the points of consideration by the fact-finding committee and the suggestions by the fact-finding committee.
The facts section is divided into 10 parts as follows:
1 Demonstration at the Tak Bai district police station in Narathiwat
2 Intelligence work by the authorities and preparations to deal with demonstrations, and negotiations with demonstrators
3 Use of force to break up the demonstration
4 Loading of arrested protesters on to military trucks
5 Transportation of arrested protesters from Tak Bai to the Ingkayuth military camp in Pattani’s Nong Chik district
6 Unloading protesters from the military trucks at the camp
7 Discovery of dead protesters inside the trucks, the filing of death reports and taking care of detainees
8 Results of the post-mortems on seven people killed during the dispersal of demonstrators, and on 78 detainees who died on the trucks. The results of drug tests on detainees.
9 Legal proceedings against detainees
10 Remedy process: Government’s dealing with the injured and killed as well as detainees’ belongings.
People gathered in front of Tak Bai district police station on October 25, 2004 to demand the release of six suspects who were defence volunteers of a village and were charged with giving state guns to militants. Security forces’ attempt to have the demonstrators disperse failed.
It was later discovered from detained protesters that some of them could not leave the rally’s location because they were blocked by the demonstration leaders as well as being surrounded by security forces.
Moreover, many demonstrators did not hear the security forces, religious leaders or their relatives who came to the rally’s location to ask them to disperse. This was because when the authorities, religious leaders and relatives spoke through a loudspeaker, organisers of the protest would boo and jeer.
At 3:10pm, some demonstrators tried to break through the barrier to go inside the district police station’s compound. As a result, the Fourth Army region commander ordered the dispersal of the demonstrators. At that time, gunfire was heard to the side of the demonstrators and a policeman was injured. A videotape recording by a reporter from the Mass Communication Organisation of Thailand revealed that a soldier fired a warning shot, but his gun was not aimed at the sky but horizontally. Several military officers later explained that firing horizontally was a tactic to force the demonstrators to lie down.
Transportation of detained demonstrators from Tak Bai district police station to the Ingkayuth military camp in Pattani’s Nong Chik district
The Southern Border Provinces Peace-building Command testified that there were two convoys of military trucks. The first convoy departed Tak Bai at 4.15pm and reached the military camp at 7.30pm. The second convoy left Tak Bai at 7pm and reached the destination at 10pm.
But a driver [name withheld] of a truck, on which 23 dead bodies were found, testified that his truck left Tak Bai at 5pm and reached the military camp at 10pm. Another driver [name withheld] of a truck, on which 21 dead bodies were found, said he left Tak Bai and reached the camp at nearly the same time.
A sub-committee in charge of determining the facts and evidence learned from detained protesters that the first truck left the Tak Bai police station at 3.40pm and reached the camp at 5.40pm. The detainees said some trucks left the police station at 6pm and reached the camp at 9pm and some left the police station at 9pm and reached the camp at 2am the following day.
The detainees also testified that during the journey when detainees called for help, they were assaulted by guards who used either a rifle butt or a baton. Some soldiers also kicked or stomped on the detainees. Detainees also said some soldiers treated detainees very well during the journey. The sub-committee interviewed 92 detainees and nearly all of them testified that they were ordered to lie face down on top of one another during transportation. They reached the camp in the same face-down, prone position. But one of them was allowed to sit during the trip.
Lt-Col Watchara Sukwong, who was among officers unloading the detainees, found about 20 dead in a truck carrying about 70 detainees. The detainees were lying face down with hands tied behind their back. Col Noppanan Chunpradab found that detainees were lying face down inside the first truck but they did not lie on top of one another. The first truck had one fatality, killed by being hit by a hard object.
Discovery of the dead inside the military trucks
1 Death toll
A total of 78 detained protesters died during transportation. The military report revealed details of the deaths in each truck as follows:
Truck with Army Licence Plate No 19338, 21 detainees killed
Truck with Army Licence Plate No 19232, 5 detainees killed
Truck with Army Licence Plate No 19263, 6 detainees killed
Truck with Army Licence Plate No 13164, 23 detainees killed
Truck with Marine Licence Plate No 531, 5 detainees killed
Truck with Marine Licence Plate No 5256, one detainee killed
Truck with Marine Licence Plate No 530, six detainees killed.
Eleven other detainees died in trucks whose licence numbers could not be identified.
The fact-finding committee tried but failed to determine the order of departure and arrival of the trucks in order to determine travel time.
2 Number of detainees transferred on each truck
The committee did not get details on how many detainees each truck carried but obtained the following information:
Col Noppanan Chunpra-dab, who took part in unloading detainees at the camp until 9.30pm, found that the first truck was not too crowded and there was only one death. The dead person appeared to have been hit by a hard object.
Lt-Col Watchara Suk-wong testified that a truck carrying about 70 detainees had about 20 deaths.
The Southern Border Provinces Peace-building Command reported to the prime minister that each truck transported about 50, 70 or 90 detainees. The 21st truck carried 90 detainees and there were 23 deaths in the truck.
Information found by a sub-committee of the fact-finding committee found that each truck carried about 60 detainees, 70 detainees or 80 detainees.
3 People who discovered the deaths
When soldiers unloaded detainees from each truck, they found that some detainees were lying face down and not moving. Soldiers shook the bodies, which did not move, and then asked a military doctor, Lieutenant Jirasak, who was treating the injured, to check them. Jirasak found that the motionless detainees were dead after checking their pulse and retinas.
4 Times of death
The exact times of the detainees’ deaths are not known. But it was learnt from testimonies that the detainees died during transportation from the Tak Bai police station to the Ingkayuth military camp.
5 Time when the dead were discovered
Col Noppanan Chunpradab testified that the first death was discovered in the first truck. Later at 11pm, word spread among the soldiers that 20 more dead were found. Between 1am and 2am, it was reported among the military officers that the death toll had climbed to about 70.
6 Handling of transported detainees after the deaths were discovered
The fact-finding committee asked military officers in charge of transporting detainees why they did not remove detainees from the other trucks after the deaths in earlier trucks had been discovered. The officers replied that although the trucks had reached the camp, they had to gradually unload one truck at a time for fear that they would not be able to control so many detainees when they were on the ground at the same time.
7 Handling of the bodies
Bodies of the dead detainees were sent to a building for post-mortems.
Reporting the deaths
1 Reporting inside the Ingkayuth military camp
Verbal reports were made irregularly inside the military camp about the deaths. Col Noppanan Chunpradab, who left the military prison for his residence inside the camp at 9.30pm, heard that the number of deaths had increased by 20. Between 1am and 2am on October 26, it was reported among military officers that the death toll had climbed to about 70.
2 Reporting to higher authorities
Higher authorities received reports as follows:
The deputy commander of the Southern Border Provinces Peace-building Command, Siwa Saengmanee received a report at 10am on October 26 that a total of 78 detainees had died.
The then southern Army commander testified that he received a report at 7.45am on October 26 that 78 people had died. He said he left the Tak Bai police station at 7pm on October 25 to meet the prime minister at the Royal Princess Hotel in Narathiwat and was granted an audience with Her Majesty the Queen. He left the Southern Palace at 4am on October 26. He did not receive any report between 7pm on October 25 and 7.45am the following day.
But General Wiset Konguthaikul, deputy chief royal guard of the Queen, testified that the southern Army commander and several other military and civilian officers were granted an audience at 00.30am and left at 1.30am on October 26. During the audience, it was already heard that the death toll of detainees had climbed to 70. Wiset said the southern Army chief could have used a mobile phone during the audience in case of an emergency.
Treatment and registration of detainees
Detainees received Halal food and water inside the Ingkayuth camp. Detainees from the first truck received the food and water at 8.30pm and the rest were gradually given food and water. The last group received food and water at 3.30am on October 26.
Detainees, who received minor injuries, received medical treatment at the hospital inside the military prison. Those with more severe injuries were sent to the camp’s military hospital. Those with conditions considered to be too severe to be treated at the camp’s hospital were sent to the provincial hospital and the Prince of Songkhla University Hospital.
The post-mortem examinations of victims (seven people who were killed when security forces dispersed crowds at Tak Bai police station, and 78 others found dead on arrival at Ingkhayuth military camp), and drug tests on detainees:
1 Post-mortem examinations
On the post-mortem examinations of 85 people killed as a result of the demonstration at Tak Bai police station, an independent committee has reviewed the following:
- Post-mortem examination results by Tak Bai police station’s investigators and the Central Institute of Forensic Science
- Investigation report by a fact-finding subcommittee on medical aspects
- Investigation report by a fact-finding subcommittee as well as clarifications by the Central Institute of Forensic Science’s deputy director Khunying Pornthip Rojanasunand, who conducted the post-mortem examinations, and Ingkayuth Military Camp Hospital’s acting director Lieutenant Dr Jirasak Intasorn in his capacity as a doctor who found many detainees dead at the military camp.
Results of the post-mortem examinations:
1.1 The post-mortem examinations of 85 victims by Tak Bai police station, Nong Chik police station and Central Institute of Forensic Science.
1.1.1 Report by investigators at Tak Bai police station, Narathiwat, which looked into the deaths of the seven demonstrators. Six victims died at the protest site, while the seventh died at Narathiwat Ratchanakarin Hospital. Police officers, administrative officers (an assistant district officer of Tak Bai District Office and an assistant district officer of Muang Narathiwat District Office), and public prosecutors conducted the autopsies between 4pm and 5pm on October 25, 2004. Their autopsy report said the seven protesters died of gunshot wounds.
1.1.2 A: The post-mortem examinations on the 78 people who died while being transferred from Tak Bai police station in Narathiwat to the Ingkayuth military camp in Pattani’s Nong Chik district. A medical team from the Central Institute of Forensic Science, Pattani Hospital doctors, police officers, administrative officers and public prosecutors conducted the post-mortem examinations (without dissection of the dead bodies) between 9am and 5pm on October 26, 2004.The post-mortem examinations found that:
1 Thirty-three people died of asphyxiation and pressure on their chests.
2 Four people died of asphyxiation as a result of pressure on their chests and also had injuries caused by blunt objects.
3 Ten people died of asphyxiation as a result of pressure on their chests. They had also suffered seizures as a result of a chemical imbalance in the blood and had injuries caused by blunt objects.
4 31 people died of asphyxiation.
B: Khunying Pornthip also clarified to the independent committee that:
- There was no trace of asphyxiation caused by strangulation, or by having plastic wrapped tightly around the victims’ heads. Most bodies had sclera haemorrhage, and had venous congestion.
- Fasting was not the cause of any of the deaths, which was rather to do with the standard of health of the detainees.
- The physical pressure exerted on detainees from being laid upon was insufficient to cause death.
1.2 Investigation report by a fact-finding subcommittee on medical aspects
1.2.1 Regarding the seven people killed at Tak Bai police station and the one who sustained serious injuries and later died in hospital, the report concluded that it was clear the victims died of gunshot wounds caused by bullets shot from distance.
1.2.2 Regarding the deaths of the 78 people at the Inkayuth military camp in Pattani, the fact-finding subcommittee on medical aspects inferred their causes of death from physical examinations conducted on injured survivors. Of the injured victims, most suffered crush injuries and four also had compartment syndrome that meant they required urgent operations. Medical specialists said the fact that the protesting Thai Muslims had been fasting without food or liquids for more than 12 hours; that they had been exposed to the scorching sun; and that they had experienced violent treatment during the demonstration, dispersal and transfers on overcrowded vehicles had led to their injuries. The transfers took more than three hours, in some cases on overcrowded vehicles, causing rhabdomyolysis as well as a chemical imbalance in the blood and blood cells. The imbalance was so severe that muscles involved with breathing could hardly function. In the most severe cases the victims died. It was concluded that the above factors caused the deaths of the detainees. Furthermore, the autopsies on the 78 detainees who died on their way from Tak Bai police station in Narathiwat’s Tak Bai district to Ingkayuth military camp in Pattani’s Nong Chik district showed that most deaths were caused by asphyxiation and pressure on the chest and breathing muscles. There were also some signs of seizures and chemical imbalances in the blood, which could have resulted in death. Therefore, the subcommittee concluded that all 78 detainees died of the same cause - rhabdomyolysis, which causes abnormal breathing. When coupled with the shortage of food and water and long exposure to sweltering heat, the condition can result in death.
2 Drug test results
The fact-finding subcommittee on medical aspects reported the results of drug tests carried out on detainees at Ingkayuth military camp, injured victims from the Tak Bai incident and those who died while in detention as follows:
2.1 Of 1,093 subjects from detainees at the military camp, 13 tested positive for drugs. Details are:
2.1.1 Eight subjects tested positive for methamphetamines
2.1.2 One subject tested positive for ephedrine
2.1.3 One subject tested positive for Benzo
2.1.4 Two subjects tested positive for THC (marijuana)
2.2 Of the 13 injured subjects tested at Pattani Hospital, one tested positive for morphine.
2.3 Of the 78 detainees found dead at Ingkayuth military camp, only 40 were selected for drug tests. Of those, two tested positive for drugs: one for ephedrine and one for morphine. The results of the drug tests are limited, however, as not all the detainees who died were tested.
The independent committee’s findings
Was the protest outside Tak Bai District Police Station in Narathiwat on October 25 systematically organised?
Yes. There were two reasons the protest was organised: to call for the release of six village defence volunteers and to pray for them.
The committee analysed the behaviour of the protesters before and after the crack down and found that the protest was systematically organised in the same way as earlier protests in Pattani and Narathiwat.
The protest leaders intentionally organised the protest during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and planned to instigate police anger.
About 30 protest leaders were in front of the crowd, the rest of the protesters were persuaded to gather to give morale support to the defence volunteers and to pray for them. Some joined the protest out of curiosity.
Did the protesters carry arms?
Reports from the South-ern Border Provinces Peace-building Command and Lt-General Pisarn Wattanawong-kiri, commander of the Fourth Army Region at the time of the protest, concluded that some protesters carried arms. Police reported that they found bullets and arms hidden in the river.
The committee’s analysis of reports and questioning of witnesses led it to believe that some protest leaders carried arms, although the number was not great.
A policeman was wounded after a shot was fired from where protesters were gathered. If there had been a large number of arms, more police would have been wounded or killed when they tried to disperse protesters.
Were the measures used to disperse protesters appropriate?
They were appropriate. There were roadblocks preventing people from going into Tak Bai District Police Station and six separate negotiations were undertaken to try to get the crowd to disperse. Those negotiations involved police, religious leaders and the parents of the six detained defence volunteers.
The committee, however, noted that had the roadblocks been erected earlier or more effectively, there would have been fewer protesters. Loudspeakers used by state officials to ask protesters to disperse were not loud enough.
Were the reasons given for dispersing protesters or the methods used for removing them appropriate?
The committee believes state officials had grounds to disperse the protesters, because the protest involved a large number of people.
The protest was planned and organised. The protesters carried sticks, stones and may have had hidden arms. State officials were also placed under pressure because of the length of the protest.
However, the committee did not agree with the use of military Rangers or conscripted military or the firing of real bullets to crack down on protesters.
Seven protesters were killed [five were shot in the head] and 15 police officers were injured during the crack down. About 1,370 protesters were detained.
Since police and protesters were injured or killed in the crackdown, their cases should be allowed to go through the justice system.
Autopsies refuted reports that protesters were shot at point-blank range.
Was the detention of protesters appropriate and legal?
There were mistakes and flaws in the detention, because state officials had wanted to detain only protest leaders. But after protesters removed their shirts, officials could not identify the leaders. They then decided to detain all the protesters.
Only four trucks were sent to transport protesters because authorities initially intended toarrest just the leaders.
According to martial law, protesters can be detained no longer than a week.
Was the decision to use a military camp in Pattani to detain protesters appropriate?
It was appropriate, because the military camp in Narathiwat would not have been large enough to house them all, and the Pattani camp also had facilities to treat any injured protesters.
Was the transport of protesters from Tak Bai to the camp in Pattani up to scratch?
The transport operation was rushed and carried out in a state of confusion.
A total of 28 trucks were provided without knowing how many protesters needed to be transported.
The trucks that left first carried only 50 protesters each, while the rest were heavily packed.
The committee found that protesters were laid out on top of each other facing down in layers of three to four on the trucks.
High-ranking officials who oversaw the transport of protesters were guilty of dereliction of duty, as they failed to ensure it was carried out sensibly.
Seventy-eight protesters died while being transported.
Was the time it took to transport protesters acceptable?
The trucks in which 77 of the protesters died took some five hours to travel to the camp - an acceptable time given that it rained and was dark.
There were also nails and a blockade left by militants on the roads.
The trucks were forced to stop frequently because of shift changes for security personnel and rumours that militants were planning an operation to free the protesters.
However, it was irresponsible for security officials not to act sensibly when they found out that protesters had died on the trucks.
Were protesters treated well at the military camp in Pattani?
Yes. Doctors and nurses were on hand to treat injured protesters.
Are any protesters missing?
Seven people from Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala are missing. Local officials must speed up investigations to find their whereabouts. They must also provide moral support to relatives of the missing.
Who must take responsibility for the crackdown and the transportation of protesters?
The committee found that Maj-General Chalermchai Wiroonphet, then commander of the Fifth Infantry Division, is responsible for both incidents.
He was not at the scene to oversee the operation to the end. Instead, he left the scene at 7.30pm without an acceptable excuse, to meet the prime minister in Narathiwat.
Maj-General Sinchai Nutsatit, the then deputy commander of the Fourth Army Region, was assigned to prepare water, food and accommodation for protesters once they arrived at the camp in Pattani.
He failed to take any action against officials who were in control of the transport of protesters when he found that some had died on the trucks.
He also did not act in any way to help protesters detained on the trucks. If he did act, he could have reduced the number of casualties.
Lt-General Pisarn was the highest authority after martial law was imposed.
Although he assigned subordinates to oversee the operation, it was his responsibility to make sure they succeeded in carrying out their tasks.
When he was informed 70 protesters had died on the trucks, he failed to act.
The committee concluded the tragedy that led to 78 deaths was beyond expectations and was not intentional.
State officials carried out their work under limitations that led to flaws and mistakes, but there was no deliberate act to cause death and injury.