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TRCT's 'truth' cannot be believed without evidence

The final report from the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) on what happened in April-May 2010 and the subsequent crackdown that led to 92 deaths and 2,000 injured can, at best, be considered a missed opportunity to establish truth and reconciliation.

In what is arguably a crucial and seminal part of the report - the role of the "men in black" who appeared on April 10 fully armed to confront soldiers, eventually leading to more than 20 protesters being killed - was presented in far too broad a brushstroke, leading to more questions.

On page 111 of the 276-page report, the TRCT states: "The operation by 'the men in black' was very instrumental in creating and elevating violence with the aim of provoking the Army to use weapons against demonstrators and wanting to exact the loss of lives."

The report then uses the incident to explain the animosity between the Army under the Abhisit Vejjajiva's government and the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra red-shirt supporters.

Its claim of knowing the true "intentions" of the "men in black" was never substantiated and no evidence was presented to counter the red-shirts' belief that these "men in black" were dispatched by someone to help them, not ensure that more demonstrators were killed by security officers. The claim to know the intention of the men in black is as mysterious as the existence of these men themselves.

This is in contrast to the TRCT's postulation that red-shirt Maj-General Khattiya "Seh Daeng" Sawasdipol was probably killed by a high-velocity bullet shot from the direction of a building that had been secured by the Army weeks before the incident took place on the night of May 13. On this issue, the report on page 123 very rightly does not try to "conclude" anything, but merely cites the opinions of experts and senior security and intelligence officers, stating that this could be probable.

It is no secret that the TRCT's birth was controversial. Then-prime minister Abhisit had hand-picked chairman Kanit na Nakorn and one of the key commissioners, human-rights lawyer Somchai Hom-laor, had shown signs of being partial towards the yellow shirts. In 2006, he had written to old friends asking them not to be too harsh with the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in 2006.

These are just some points that have raised suspicions about the TRCT's impartiality, and its credibility was further undermined when it appointed Maetha Maskaow, a former close aide and protege of PAD secretary Suriyasai Katasila, as a member of its investigation subcommittee.

There is no doubt that some recommendations, such as reforming the Army and the lese majeste law, are worth heeding. Also the release of the report itself is a milestone, when compared with the secrecy surrounding the fact-finding panel set up to look into the May 1992 massacre, which has never released a report to the public. To be fair, the TRCT also concluded that live bullets were used against protesters and sharpshooters had indeed been employed by the Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation.

Nevertheless, without basing its "truth" on clear methodology and evidence that can be widely accepted and trusted on both sides of the political divide, reconciliation is very unlikely and impunity can almost be guaranteed.