The Thai military played a larger role in the killing of civilians during political unrest in Bangkok this year than officials have acknowledged, leaked state documents show.
A preliminary state probe into political violence in April and May concluded Thai special forces positioned on an elevated railway track fired into the grounds of a Buddhist temple where several thousand protesters had taken refuge on May 19.
Three of six people shot dead at the temple were likely killed by troops, the investigation found, directly contradicting statements by the Thai military, which has denied soldiers were responsible for the killings.
The report said there was not enough evidence to conclude who was responsible for the other three deaths in the temple, but said all six victims were hit by high-velocity bullets.
“There is a reasonable amount of facts, evidence and witness accounts to believe that [three] deaths resulted from security officials’ actions on duty,” the investigators said, recommending that police look into the deaths further.
The report quoted soldiers involved as saying they fired warning shots and cover fire, and had been shot at from the temple.
The findings by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) are likely to embolden the “Red Shirt” anti-government protest movement challenging the legitimacy of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who in June blamed armed elements among the protesters for the temple deaths.
Wat Prathum Wanaram, a Buddhist temple, had been designated a “safe zone” for women, children, the elderly and the infirm. Thousands fled there when the military used force on May 19 to disperse protesters occupying a nearby commercial district.
According to the DSI probe, witnesses reported scenes of chaos outside the temple as gunshots rang out and civilians fled.
One witness said he saw soldiers firing from the elevated train track into a medical tent inside the compound, where two nurses treating wounded civilians were killed.
Ninety-one people were killed and at least 1,800 were wounded during the unrest in April and May. More than 30 buildings were set on fire. It was the worst political violence in modern Thai history.
The DSI is investigating a total of 89 deaths linked to the unrest, but the government has yet to publicly release any findings despite pressure from human rights groups.
The findings were contained in two DSI reports seen by Reuters — one on the temple shootings and another on the April 10 death of Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto.
Muramoto, a 43-year-old Japanese national based in Tokyo, was killed by a high-velocity bullet wound to the chest while covering protests in Bangkok’s old quarter.
The report quoted a witness who said Muramoto collapsed as gunfire flashed from the direction of soldiers. Thailand’s government has not yet publicly released the report into his death despite intense diplomatic pressure from Japan.
Reuters Editor in Chief David Schlesinger called for the immediate public release of the full report.
“The Thai authorities owe it to Hiro’s family to reveal exactly how this tragedy happened and who was responsible,” Schlesinger said in a statement.
DSI director-general Tharit Pengdith said that the department had concluded its preliminary investigation and passed the results to the police, but had not publicly disclosed the contents.