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Thai Court Clears security officials of misconduct in Tak Bai massacre

Songkhla - A Thai court on Friday ruled that there was no misconduct on the part of security officials who involved in the Tak Bai incident five years ago that caused the death of 85 Thai-Muslims.

Bernama news agency said the two-member panel on the post-mortem inquest concluded that army and police officials acted according to the law, used their judgment to deal with the pressing situation and did their best based on the circumstances of the situation then.

The court said the officials were carrying out their duties and had compelling reasons to transport over 1,000 detained demonstrators from Tak Bai mosque to Ingkayuthaborihaan Army Camp in Pattani on Oct 25, 2004.

The online said the incident happened when over 1,500 people took part in a demonstration in front of the Tak Bai Police Station to demand the release of six village defence volunteers who were detained on suspicion of filing false reports to the police concerning a robbery of government-issued shotguns.

Police sprayed water and fired tear gas at the protesters while live ammunition were fired into the sky and at crowd level to break-up the demonstration that resulted in the deaths of seven people.

Some 1,292 persons were arrested and detained by the authorities. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), those detained were beaten with batons, kicked and punched, some whilst lying on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs.

The detained persons were then loaded into trucks where they were piled up in many layers and transferred to Ingkayuthaborihaan Camp, a journey that took several hours. A total of 78 people were found dead in the trucks in the incident that occurred during the Muslim fasting month.

More than 3,500 people have died since armed separatists resumed their campaign in January 2004 to seek independence for the three Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.

Many locals and human rights bodies blamed the rising violence on the Tak Bai incident as well as on the earlier tragedy, in April 2004, when 32 suspected insurgents were killed after the authorities stormed the 300-year-old Krue Se mosque in Pattani following a nine-hour stand-off.

The court said security officials had to make a swift decision to transport the detainees in such a manner to Pattani due to security reasons as the location of the demonstration was not far from the Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace and the Malaysian border.

Furthermore, he said there were attempts to block the smooth passage of the transportation of detainees to Pattani with trees being felled and spikes thrown on the road.

He said although there was video-tape footage of the incident that showed some people clad in uniform causing injuries to the demonstrators, there was no clear indication if it was done on the orders of their superiors or individuals taking impromptu action to deal with the demonstrators.

The inquest also found that the demonstrators were not carried out peacefully, as there were gunshot from an unknown source before the crackdown and weapons found at the nearby river after the incident.

Officials were also cleared of any wrongdoing as they were acting under the Emergency Decree. The Section 17 of the decree stated officials couldn?t be subjected to civil, criminal or disciplinary liabilities arising from them while performing their duty.

The verdict was received with disbelief by families of the victims who had travelled several hundred kilometres to be present.

Bernama quoted Zainah Saleme, who set up a women's group fighting for justice for Tak Bai victims, as saying she was very disappointed with the decision.

"There was no consideration at all concerning the condition of the victims, the feelings of family members. The court said the deaths (of the 78 victims) were not caused by bullets...but they were piled in layers. They did not think about the victims' lives at all," said Zainah, whose son was detained for two years for being involved in the demonstration.

Hamiah Ahmad, 53, said she was extremely sad because there was totally no justice for the victims and their families who had to travel to the courts and back since the case started several years ago.

"My son was there by coincidence and died of bullet wound," said Hamiah who received a compensation of RM2, 000 (20,000 baht) from the government.

Muhammad Hassan, 50, whose only son died after being piled in layers in a truck, said he was shocked at the decision of the court.

The Thai Government under the previous military-appointed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont gave compensation amounting to Bt42 million to family members of the Tak Bai victims, and dropped charges against 56 people involved in the demonstration, and apologised for the tragedy.

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