A leading human rights watchdog on Tuesday accused Thai soldiers of “cold blooded acts of murder” during political violence last year in Bangkok that left more than 90 people dead.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the army used snipers and crushed civil disobedience with disproportionate force during the April and May 2010 rallies staged by the anti-government “Red Shirt” movement.
“In plain view government forces shot protesters and armed militants shot soldiers, but no one has been held responsible,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said.
Troops fired “repeatedly and indiscriminately” into the Wat Pathum Wanaram temple - a supposedly safe zone where several people were killed - from a vantage point on the tracks of the capital’s elevated train network, HRW said.
“The fact is that they did do it and these were, as far as we are concerned, cold-blooded acts of murder,” Mr Adams said.
At least one fatality inside the temple and two outside were caused by the army, he said.
“When a soldier looks through his sniper at someone who is not armed and pulls the trigger, that is murder even if they are acting on government authority.”
In the report, titled Descent into Chaos, the group also criticised the government’s use of the term “terrorist” to describe protesters, as well as the designation of certain areas as “live fire zones”.
“This was not a theatre of war. It was an area of severe civil disturbance,” Mr Adams told a news conference in Bangkok.
Well-armed “mercenaries” in the protest movement, known as the “Black Shirts”, also attacked troops with assault rifles and grenades, fanning the violence and chaos, he added.
Nearly 1,900 people were injured in clashes between the army and demonstrators during the two-month rallies. Most of the casualties were civilians.
Thailand, which is soon to hold an election, remains deeply-divided following the bloodshed.
“It is clear that both sides still have very raw feelings about what happened last year... The campaign period is going to exacerbate this problem,” Mr Adams said.
The report slammed government efforts so far to establish the circumstances of the deaths.
Mr Adams said a Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to analyse what happened during the unrest was not set to report for at least another six months, which he said was “entirely too slow”.
The Department of Special Investigation (DSI), tasked with the criminal probe into the protests, “looks very political and looks like it is controlled by the government”, Me Adams said.
“It doesn't appear that the DSI investigation is likely to lead to major new facts being published,” he added.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn stressed the independence of the official investigations and urged observers to wait for them to reach their conclusions.
“We hope that these reports, once completed, will be able to shed more light onto what happened,” he said, adding that the HRW report was “maybe preliminary... but of course we take it seriously.” - AFP