Rescue workers prepare to move the body of school director Saho Muleng on Wednesday in Yala province.

YALA — Following an hour-long standoff, a border patrol police officer was arrested Thursday on suspicion of murdering the director of a local school in his own home.

Police said Lance Cpl. Nirand Im-erb, 26, gunned down Saho Muleng, director of the Ban Tabin Tee Ngee School, on Wednesday following a heated argument at the victim’s residence in Yala province. Nirand was reportedly not cooperating with investigators.

“He has denied all charges,” said Chamlong Suvalak, chief of Yala city police. “He refuses to give any testimony.”

But Col. Chamlong said circumstantial evidence so far points to Nirand’s involvement. Nirand, who’s enlisted with the Border Patrol’s 44th Task Force, was on duty with his partner when they stopped by Saho’s home, which doubles as a grocery store. After Nirand entered the store, gunshots were heard, and the officer then fled. Saho was found dead inside.

Having identified Nirand as the likely perpetrator, security officers surrounded his home Thursday morning and spent an hour negotiating his surrender. He eventually relented and was taken to Yala City Police Station for questioning. He was also charged with murder.

Kritsada Kaewchandee, commander of Yala police, said investigators are still trying to determine Nirand’s motives. Witnesses at the scene told police Nirand had a heated argument with Saho prior to the killing. He said cultural misunderstanding and miscommunication may have played a role.

“He asked if he could use the toilet, and he might have entered without taking his shoes off, which offended the homeowner, who was Muslim,” Maj. Gen. Kritsada said, adding that the two did not know each other.

Lance Cpl. Nirand Im-Erb, in red, in custody at Yala City Police Station on Thursday
Lance Cpl. Nirand Im-Erb, in red, in custody at Yala City Police Station on Thursday

Nevertheless, Kritsada stressed that Nirand would only be considered a suspect until forensic examinations and court proceedings confirmed his guilt.

“We are not protecting anyone. It depends on the evidence,” the commander said.

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Yala is part of the southern border region known as the Deep South, where Islamic separatists have waged a bloody campaign against the authorities for nearly 13 years. The conflict has cost at least 6,800 lives according to a December tally.

While the insurgents are blamed for many of the fatalities, there have also been incidents of security officers opening fire on civilians or their colleagues. Just two months ago, a policeman killed two fellow officers and wounded 16 at his own station in Yala.

Job stress at what is a hardship post in the nation’s most dangerous region has been cited in some incidents, but Kritsada said it was too early to conclude if it factored into Nirand’s alleged crime.

“A doctor is examining him” to assess his mental health, Maj. Gen. Kritsada said.

According to police, Nirand was posted with a unit in his hometown of Mae Sot in the north before being transferred to Yala two months ago.

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