NAKHON PHANOM — Police in the northeast denied that a third corpse had been recovered from the Mekong River after two others were linked to anti-monarchy dissidents missing in Laos.
Tha Uthen district police chief Natee Siriworawat said by phone Wednesday that he received no reports that a body had been found on Dec. 27 as alleged by a local reporter. The possibility of a third body raised speculation it might be of Surachai Danwattanusorn, a prominent anti-monarchy activist, who went missing with two of his aides last month.
DNA tests found that two mutilated bodies recovered on Dec. 26 and 29 belonged to those aides. The three had lived together in exile in Laos since the 2014 coup.
Col. Natee theorized that reports of a corpse found in the river on Dec. 27 could have been mistaken for the same one that washed ashore two days later about 40 kilometers downstream.
He said that he heard second-hand accounts of residents spotting something floating in the river.
“Villagers saw something floating in the middle of the river, then a body was retrieved in the city area,” he said. “I haven’t heard of any report of another corpse.”
The disemboweled bodies, found on the Thai side of the river in Nakhon Phanom province, were wrapped in sacks and fishnet and tied with rope. Their faces were bashed in and their stomachs stuffed with concrete blocks.
Suspicion that Surachai was killed grew after forensic examiners identified the two dead men as his compatriots called Phoo Chana and Kasalong. They were identified Thursday by police as Chatchan Boopphawal, 56, and Kraidet Luelert, 47, respectively.
On Tuesday, a local Khaosod reporter said the local headman had secured the body to the riverbank and notified the police. He said the body disappeared some time after a naval vessel arrived.
Human Rights Watch yesterday called on Laos to accelerate its investigation into the disappearances.
“The Lao government has an obligation to find out what happened to Surachai and all other Thai activists who have gone missing in Laos,” regional director Brad Adams said. “Foreign governments and donors should press the Lao government to take serious steps to investigate these cases and prosecute whomever is responsible.”
He also said the Lao government “seems intent on sweeping the abduction and gruesome murder of Thai activists under the rug.”
Pranee Danwattanusorn, Surachai’s wife, said today that if reports of a third corpse were true, she believes that it would have been that of her husband.
“If the body was found in the same way, then I think it would be him,” she said. “If the body went missing, I think they’ll try to cover it up out of fear that his supporters will rise up.”
The three activists were the latest outspoken monarchy opponents to disappear and be presumed dead. Surachai was a longtime monarchy critic wanted on charges of royal defamation and remained active from Laos promoting the republican cause. Chatchan and Kraidet were said to be hardcore Redshirt supporters.
The regional military commander said today that they weren’t monitoring the three activists, adding that it was up to the police to extract them from Laos to face any charges against them in Thailand. Surachai was also wanted for violating a special junta order after the coup.
Clarification: This story has been updated with the real identities of Phoo Chana and Kasalong released Thursday by police.