Much hangs on Tak Bai
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Much hangs on Tak Bai

Last week, the Muslim Attorney Centre Foundation representing relatives of the Tak Bai tragedy filed charges with Narathiwat provincial court against nine highly ranked security officials responsible for crowd control in Tak Bai on Oct 25, 2004.

Those army officials, policemen and provincial officials are accused of murder and other crimes in the heavy-handed crowd control of protesters, resulting in 85 deaths.

The charges were filed six months before the 20-year statute of limitations expired in the case.

It is the first time that relatives of victims involved in the state crowd-control tragedy have sued those responsible for murder.

Security officials in Thailand have been known to use force in cracking down on protesters. Glaring examples are the two bloodbath student protests in October 1973 and May 1992.

Subsequent governments often paid compensation financed by taxpayers' money, yet the security officials who were responsible were not taken to justice.

The Tak Bai incident is an example of ham-fisted crowd management and a culture of impunity in the state sector that underlines the way state officials deal with and control protesters.

The incident took place right in front of Tak Bai police station in Narathiwat where more than 1,500 protesters gathered demanding the release of six detained village defence volunteers.

The protest gathered steam until security officials used live bullets to subdue it, taking the lives of seven protesters.

Another 76 suffocated as those arrested were being transported to barracks.

The detainees were crammed into military trucks, piled up as many as five layers deep for the journey, which took several hours.

If the crowd control effort was a mess, the subsequent state response showed an absence of accountability.

The officials who were responsible for the callous crowd control have not been brought to justice despite probes finding army commanders failed to supervise the operation; three senior army officers were found to have failed to properly monitor and supervise the transportation.

A police investigation into the crowd dispersal concluded that those responsible for the seven deaths could not be identified.

Prosecutors then decided not to pursue the case. Relatives of victims received financial compensation of 7.5 million baht for each case in June 2012.

In retrospect, the impact of the Tak Bai tragedy has had a lasting negative impact in the deep South.

Goaded by legal exemptions, officials who should act as guardians use excessive force, knowing they will not face serious consequences.

Instead of winning the hearts of the people, a barbaric incident like Tak Bai turns security officials into the enemy, which plays into the hands of the separatist movement.

The armed forces have more recently been trying to win people's hearts. Yet locals' distrust of officials runs deep and makes the government's plan to restore peace to the deep South much harder.

Compensation to victims cannot bring justice, nor win hearts. Without a trial and the failure to prosecute those responsible, the tragedy will continue to foster an ongoing culture of impunity in the deep South.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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