BANGKOK — A panel investigating a fatal military raid in the southern province of Pattani has postponed the release of their findings, citing the need for more time to question witnesses and assess evidence.
The group is investigating a controversial raid in To Chud village on 25 March that left four men dead. Authorities said the raid was an effort to arrest Islamic militants involved in a bloody insurgency in the region, but community leaders and witnesses say the four men killed in the operation were innocent.
In response to public outcry, authorities formed a 15-member panel to investigate in the incident. Their report, initially scheduled for release today, has now been “postponed indefinitely,” said Waedueramae Mamingi, chairman of the Central Islamic Committee in Pattani and a member on the panel.
“Currently, the investigation result is not clear,” he said. “The committee is still summoning individuals who are related to the incident to give testimony, including witnesses at the scene and forensic science officials.”
The 15-member also includes representatives the military, local administration, and Fatoni University, where two of the deceased were students.
“There are many debated or contradictory points, such as issues about the weapons confiscated at the crime scene, whether the victims were armed, and drugs,” said Waedueramae. “We will continue to summon people and investigate the facts until we have clear conclusion.”
Police told the media they opened fire after encountering resistance from the suspects, who they believed were plotting attacks in the area. Two of the deceased were initially identified as members of RKK, one of the Islamic militant groups behind the secessionist movement.
However, it later emerged that none of the victims had any pre-existing criminal records of participating in the secessionist movement.
Security officers also said they confiscated three firearms at the scene, which according to forensic testing, have never been used in documented insurgent attacks in the region.
Twenty-two men were arrested after the raid and taken to army camps for several days of interrogation. The men were released in batches, with the final group reportedly leaving the army camps yesterday. None of them have been charged with any crimes.
Police say seven soldiers will be charged with murder for their role in the raid, though the men failed to report to hear their charges on Wednesday. Police said the suspects postponed their meeting "indefinitely," but declined to comment further.
According to relatives of the victims and community leaders, two of the deceased were Fatoni University students in their twenties, one was a known drug addict with no links to the insurgency, and the fourth victim was a 32-year-old man preparing to assist Thai authorities as a Village Defense volunteer after two of his relatives were killed by militants.
More than 6,200 people have been killed since secessionist violence broke out in the three southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat in early 2004, according to data compiled by rights groups. Sixty-thousand security officers are stationed in the region, known as the Deep South, to combat the insurgents, who are seeking to establish independent Islamic state.
Although suspected insurgent attacks are responsible for the majority of casualties, human rights activists have also documented cases of excessive brutality and foul play by security officers in the region.
In August, a volunteer ranger admitted to killing a local 14-year-old boy and planting a firearm on his body to implicate him as an insurgent.