Police fail again to appear before human rights panel

Police fail again to appear before human rights panel

Police officials yesterday failed for a second time to appear before the National Human Rights Commission which is probing violence during a police attempt to reclaim Phan Fah Bridge from Dhamma Army protesters last month.

The commission's subcommittee on Civil and Political Rights had arranged a hearing on Monday but police officials failed to attend. The panel then arranged another for yesterday, but police officials were again absent.

The Dhamma Army, which also failed to appear on Monday, sent nine people who witnessed the Feb 18 clash to yesterday's hearing. Subcommittee chairman Niran Pitakwatchara said his panel had requested testimony from the commanders of the police units who took part in the attempt to reclaim the protest site. They included Region 2 Police commander Kawee Supanan, Chon Buri police chief Katcha Thartsart and Sa Kaeo police chief Yingyos Thepchamnong.

Mr Niran said he telephoned deputy police chief Worapong Chewpreecha to ask for the officers to attend the hearing and was told that police needed more time to gather evidence.

''We don't need the police commanders to tell us every single detail. There is no need to wait for the finals result of their investigation,'' Mr Niran said.

Since police will not come to the panel, its members will arrange to go to them and hear their testimony instead, he said.

The Feb 18 clash left six people dead — four protesters and two police officers. The authorities and protesters blame each other for the violence.

During yesterday's hearing, Dhamma Army representative Manmaen Kakarndee insisted that protesters were ordered by their leaders not to use weapons or retaliate against any police action. Guards were asked to leave Phan Fah Bridge to avoid a clash, he said. He insisted that no protesters were at the Dhamma Army stage when police were attacked with a hand grenade that injured several of them. The two police officers who died were killed by gunfire, as were the four protesters who were killed.

Among the nine Dhamma Army witnesses, two told the commission that they saw unidentified armed men, wearing black, on the rooftops of buildings on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. Three others said the first round of negotiations between police and protesters resulted in an agreement that protesters would open part of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. 

Police negotiators then left but returned later to demand the whole avenue be opened. During the second round of negotiations, the witnesses claimed police moved in to break up the protest site.

One woman said she heard the sounds of gunshots coming from both police and protesters' ranks.

But she only saw guns in policemen’s hands and could not see who was shooting from the protesters' side.

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