NARATHIWAT — The military on Wednesday promised that it would investigate the killings of three civilians by security officers who reportedly mistook them as armed militants in the Deep South.
Haphisi Mada-oh, 24, Budiman Mali, 26, and Manasae Samaar, 27, were shot dead on Ta We Mountain in Narathiwat’s Ra-ngae district on Monday. A regional army commander said his force has apologized to the families, who are demanding explanations and justice from the authorities over the killings.
“We will bring the perpetrators to trial and offer [victims’ families] reparations for our fault,” Gen. Pornsak Poonsawat said. “Our investigation suggested that the officers mistook them as insurgents, but if we find that the attack was deliberate, we will take disciplinary and legal actions without any exception.”
The military says armed gunmen opened fire on security officers during a raid on their camp on Monday before fleeing deep into the jungle. The officers gave chase until they encountered the three men and shot them out of misunderstanding, according to Gen. Pornsak.
“I already gave my apology to victims’ relatives and promised them justice,” the general said.
Haphisi’s father, Mahama Mada-oh, said his son often went up the mountain to collect wood and wild honey. He insisted that his son has no history of involvement with any separatist groups.
Activists criticize the army for seemingly adopting a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ attitude when dealing with civilians in the three southern border provinces.
“They had the right to live,” Anchana Heemina, head of a local victim support group, said. “Apart from offering adequate compensation to the victims, the state must prevent this kind of incident from happening again by bringing wrongdoers to trial.”
Families of the three men also urged authorities to explain why there were delays in the return of their bodies, which they said it took more than 37 hours after the incident.
According to Islamic custom, burial should take place within 24 hours of death.
One of the relatives also said the army must disclose the names of security officers responsible for the fatal shootings, adding that they are planning to pursue legal actions against the army.
“We feel that we’re treated as if we’re not Thai,” a relative, who asked not to be named, told reporters. “No one has visited us after what happened. We will find a lawyer to sue the army because we feel that we’re being treated unfairly.”
Although the media initially reported that several firearms were found on the three men, whom they described as armed insurgents, Gen. Pornsak said today the trio were not carrying any weapons at the time.
The gunmen who engaged in the firefight with the security forces managed to slip away, he said.
More than 5,800 people have been killed in the past 15 years of conflict in the Deep South, according to monitors.
While most of the fatalities were victims of bomb and gun attacks by the shadowy insurgents, the military also has a record of killing civilians in the region, drawing much condemnation from local residents and rights activists who say there is little justice for the victims.