PATTANI — The commander of Thailand's southern border police has formally apologized for a raid on a village in Pattani province that killed four men whose ties to a local secessionist group remain unclear.
The four men, all in their early twenties or thirties, were shot dead during an operation carried out by police, military, and paramilitary rangers on 25 March. Twenty-two other men were also arrested at the scene and taken to army camps. Thirteen of them were released several days later without charges.
Rescue workers stand behind the corpses of the four men killed in the raid in To Chud Village, Pattani province, 25 March 2015.
Police said they began shooting after they encountered gunfire from the suspects, who they believed were plotting attacks in connection with an Islamic insurgency that has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the region.
Two of the deceased were initially identified as members of RKK, one of militant groups behind the secessionist movement. However, local residents and community leaders contested the claim, and it later emerged that none of the four men had any pre-existing criminal records connected to the insurgency.
In response to the community's demands for an impartial review, Thai authorities formed a 15-member panel to investigate the incident. Their report will be finished by 3 April, officials said.
Police have made no further comments about whether the four victims were linked to the insurgency.
Today, Pol.Maj.Gen. Anurut Kritsanakaraket, commander of the Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Center, apologized for the deadly raid.
"I would like to apologize and express my sadness for the families of these young men who lost their lives," said Pol.Maj.Gen. Anurut, the first official to publicly apologize for the operation.
"This case has a lot of attention from the people. It's about the happiness of the people that we have to fulfill," Pol.Maj.Gen. Anurut said. "Today we have witnesses and individuals that need to be interrogated. I am serving as an adviser to the investigation. Police must make the facts clear quickly and inform the people."
Pol.Maj.Gen. Anurut added that security officers have been instructed to adjust their procedures for future raids on suspected militants in the region.
"We will form [small] teams to track down and arrest them instead of using heavy forces, which may lead to violence … When we use many weapons, society will look at the situation negatively," he said.
Mae Jaloh, who was briefly detained in the raid, told reporters she and her son were in To Chud on the evening of 25 March because they had been hired to help clear termites from a house in the village.
They were talking to some residents and preparing their equipment when a group of black-clad security officers surrounded the community, she said.
"Some officers were in front of the house, some were at the rubber farm behind the house," Mae said. "Then I heard the officers shout 'fire!' and gunshots rang out."
According to Mae, after the gunfire died down the officers ordered everyone to lie down on the ground, including herself. She said an officer also pointed a gun at her face before arresting her. Mae was later released from Thung Yang Daeng Police Station at around 3 am the next day, and her son was released several days later.
The controversy surrounding the raid has struck upon the deep mistrust of Thai authorities among locals in the three southern border provinces, a predominantly Muslim region known as the Deep South.
An estimated 60,000 security officers are deployed in the area to battle separatist violence that broke out in 2004. Although a majority of the casualties have been killed by shadowy insurgents, security officers are often accused of employing excessive violence and violating human rights in the region.