Commission says 'men in black' may have got cooperation from red shirts
The long-awaited final report from the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) on the 2010 crackdown, which was obtained in advance by The Nation, shows that the so-called "men in black" had received cooperation from red-shirt guards. It also said that security officers eventually used live bullets, deployed snipers and were likely responsible for the six deaths at Wat Pathumwanaram on May 19, 2010.
The 515-page report appeared to hold both sides responsible for the 90-plus deaths and said the clashes on April 10, 2010, where more than 20 people were killed including Army Colonel Romklao Thuwatham, were seminal in creating a climate of animosity between the red shirts and the Army. The report is scheduled to be made public next week.
The men in black and April 10, 2010
"Both [sides] believe they were victims. The operation by the 'men in black' were very instrumental in creating and elevating the violence with the aim of provoking the Army to use weapons against protesters and wanting to exact the loss of lives," page 184 of the report read.
The TRCT explained that after the night of April 10, 2010, the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) had started using the term "terrorist" and had permitted security officials to use live bullets for self-defence. Abhisit Vejjajiva's government created the commission with chairman Kanit na Nakorn personally chosen by the premier.
When Colonel Romklao was unexpectedly attacked and killed by a bomb and some senior officers injured, "it led to the confusing and out-of-control use of weapons by soldiers", the report said. It added that soldiers then used rifles and fired "many" live bullets in the direction of the red-shirt protesters. "Many protesters died from bullet wounds," the report stated, without explicitly linking the deaths to soldiers.
The report links at least one of the "men in black" to Army Maj-General Khattiya "Seh Daeng" Sawasdipol, who would later end up being shot down by an unknown sharp shooter on May 13. The report does not reveal the name of the "man in black" believed to be a close aide of Khattiya. On pages 163 and 164, the report says that somebody saw a group of men in black step out of a white van at 7pm on April 10 near the Democracy Monument only to be "surrounded" and escorted by red-shirt guards toward the direction of the deadly confrontation. The guards "barred people from taking photos and some protesters shouted 'a helping hand is here', but were later prevented from speaking".
The report failed to shed light on who might have killed Reuters photographer Hiroyuki Muramoto that night, but it did point out that the first death on April 10 had taken place in front of the Education Ministry when a red-shirt protester was killed by a bullet from an unknown assailant. This was well before the men in black showed up.
Death of Maj-General Khattiya
The TRCT report said that Khattiya, a key red-shirt ally, was shot in the head by a "high-velocity" but unspecified gun on the night of May 13 with bullets that "probably" came from the Silom Plaza Building, which was "under the control of the authorities since April 18".
Six deaths at Wat Pathumwannaram
After Khattiya was killed, violence escalated on both sides and the TRCT report noted a photograph taken by Agence France-Presse, showing what was later examined by weapon experts to be the shell of a live bullet flying out of a soldier's rifle aiming his gun toward protesters. The report noted on page 208 that security officers shot live bullets from both rifles and handguns.
On May 19, at around 10.50am, the report said that clashes occurred between soldiers and armed men in black who were holed up inside Lumpini Park and stated that some protesters may have been killed when bullets were fired from the park.
As for the six killed at Wat Pathumwannaram on the evening of May 19 after demonstrators had been dispersed, TRCT said that on May 19, some 4,000 people had entered the temple, which had been declared a sanctuary area. A sign stating temple's sanctuary status had been posted since May 17, after peace advocates had managed to have the government agree to the idea. The report noted an eyewitness account saying men in black had been spotted inside the temple compound on May 15.
The report noted that: "At around 6pm [of May 19, 2010] seven soldiers were deployed on the first floor of [BTS] Skytrain track in front of Wat Pathumwannaram and five [soldiers] at the Siam Centre BTS Station. All of them were armed with M16 rifles and live bullets.
"It was discovered that officers aimed at and shot in the direction of Wat Pathumwannaram.
On the first-floor Skytrain track, two .223 bullet shells were discovered and they had been fired from the same gun.
What's more, a senior monk at the temple said he had seen a number of soldiers on the Skytrain track and had heard my gunshots fired around the front of the temple at dusk.
"It is highly likely that this was the cause of the deaths and injuries around Wat Pathumwananram," the report concluded, adding that one soldier told the TRCT that he had fired into the temple because there was an armed man in black on a tree inside the temple.
An M16 was later discovered inside the temple, the report added.