Sat, August 30, 2014
By Khaosod English
06 August 2013, Last upated at 15:12 GMT
Court Inquest Dispels Oft-Recited Myths Of 2010 Crackdown

(6 August) The Southern Bangkok Criminal Court shed a light on what many refer to as the darkest episode in the political violence of April-May 2010, stating that the military was responsible for deaths of 6 civilians, including a pair of volunteer medics, inside the temple designated as safe haven by the authorities at the time.

The inquest helps debunk claims made by critics of the Redshirts who have claimed that the the military had not played any role in the deaths of over 90 people, mostly civilians, that perished during the 2010 crackdown.

Hundreds fled into Wat Pathumwanararm Temple as the military launched the final assault upon the Redshirts main encampment at the nearby Ratchaprasong Intersection on 19 May 2010 after the protesters had occupied financial districts of Bangkok for weeks, demanding the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajeeva dissolve the parliament and call fresh election.

Many of the refugees inside the temple were women, children, and the elderly. Also present among them was a group of young volunteer medics who had set up makeshift medical station near the temple′s gate. Ms. Kamonkate Akhard, 25, and Mr. Akaradech Khankaew, 22, were such volunteers.

And then, in broad daylight, gunfire erupted, spraying bullets into the sanctuary where many thought they would be safe. The gunfire was sustained for hours, according to those inside the temple. By nightfall, 6 people were discovered dead, including Ms. Kamonkate and Mr. Akaradech.

Of these 6 victims, 5 were killed inside the temple compound, while the other victim, Mr. Atchai Chumchan, 28, was at the entrance of the temple.

The notion that these civilians were shot at as they were helplessly penned inside a Buddhist temple has made the incident at Wat Pathum particularly shocking in its level of brutality, even compared with other bloodsheds that have characterised the closing weeks of Redshirts protests.

In a lengthy reading lasting almost an hour, a judge told the packed courtroom today that residues of bullets found inside the victims′ bodies were the same type of ammunition issued to the military operating in the area at the time of the shooting.

The court noted that military personnel have admitted they were present on Skytrain tracks just outside the temple at the time of the shooting, while another group of soldiers were approaching the temple from direction of Siam Paragon shopping mall.

The court also acknowledged that video footage, taken by a group of policemen on the building of Royal Thai Police headquarters just opposite the temple, clearly showed the soldiers on Skytrain track shooting into the temple.

In an unprecedented move, the court went further than stating that the 6 civilians were killed by the soldier; its inquest also disputed the soldiers′ explanation of their action as a necessary "self-defence" against the shadowy armed militants who, according to the soldiers, were blending in with the crowd around the temple and shooting at the military personnel.

The so-called Blackshirts have been the centre of rhetoric adopted by those who argued that the 2010 crackdown was about Redshirts-allied militants shooting at the military and police, not about the military′s disregard for civilians′ safety as the Redshirts and many civil rights activists have charged.

Indeed, the Democrat Party has always insisted that the heavy-handed tactics of the military operation authorised by then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, which included uses of live ammunition, was necessary to combat Blackshirts militants around the protest site.

Critics of the Redshirts therefore placed the blame of Wat Pathum deaths on the Blackshirts, saying that the military opened fire only after the Blackshirts shot at them from inside the temple. Some even went as far as suggesting that the Blackshirts killed these 6 civilians in order to smear the government of Mr. Abhisit.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban once insisted that individuals on Skytrain track shooting at civilians inside Wat Pathum were actually "thugs" wearing army uniforms to create misunderstanding.

These critics cited firearms allegedly found inside the temple as "evidences" of Blackshirts′ involvement in the incident. The weapons were paraded in front of TV camera weeks after the shooting at Wat Pathum by a spokesperson of the military who said they were left behind at the temple by the Blackshirts after they exchanged gunfire with the soldiers.

The court inquest read out today stated that there was no evidence that the so-called Blackshirts were present inside or around the temple. The entire area has been secured by the military, the court insists, and it is impossible that so many journalists - some of them foreigners - failed to spot the mysterious gunmen.

The soldiers′ testimony that they were simply returning fire to the Blackshirts in the temple even contradicted accounts of other soldiers in the area who testified they that did not see any armed element, the court says.

Additionally, the judge pointed to the video clip that captured moments of soldiers on Skytrain track shooting at the temple. The soldiers did not try to take cover or react to the supposed attacks from the armed element at all, the judge said, so the gunfire was most likely one-directional.

As for the weapons allegedly found inside the temple and shown to the press later, the court noted that there was no evidence the firearms were found inside the temple immediately after the compound has been secured by members of security forces. Consequently, the court said, the weapons had no connection with the incident on 19 May 2010.

The court also questioned the possibility that the alleged Blackshirts could ever transport cache of firearms into the temple without being detected by the authorities that had tightened its noose around the protest site for days before the final military assault on 19 May 2010.

Reading from the document, the judge added that the security forces never sent these weapons to undergo extensive forensic test, the reluctance the court described as "suspicious".
What′s more, contrary to claim circulated by anti-Redshirts critics, forensic tests revealed that there was no gunpowder found on bodies of 6 victims, according to the court inquest. Therefore, the judge said, it was clear the victims were not related to the guns allegedly confiscated in the temple.

It should be noted that no court inquest of civilians killed during the military operation in April-May 2010 has explicitly pointed to the Blackshirts so far. At most, in some cases, the inquest declared there was no enough evidence to pinpoint who were responsible for their deaths.

  • ภาพ : Entrance to Wat Pathumwanararm Temple, 21 May 2010.