BANGKOK — A senior police officer on Monday acknowledged that a teargas agent was employed when riot police fired their water cannons at pro-democracy demonstrators in October.
Reversing previous claims by police commanders that the water was not laced with any teargas chemicals, deputy chief of 2nd Crowd Control Division Chawalit Runsiri told a parliamentary hearing that the water used in the Oct. 16 crackdown contained both color pigments and teargas.
“It was used only once to disperse the gathering,” Lt. Col. Chawalit said at the meeting with the House Committee on Human Rights. “It was not harmful to demonstrators.”
The meeting was called by committee chairman and Senator Somchai Sawangkarn to probe the police’s insistence that no irritants were mixed with the high pressure sprayed on protesters on Oct. 16.
Although demonstrators, journalists, and other eyewitnesses reported feeling a burning sensation on their faces and smelling teargas chemicals during the crackdown, police officials soon disputed their accounts.
“The police did not carry any weapons, only shields and batons,” police spokesman Kissana Phattanacharoen said on Oct. 16, shortly after the crackdown. “The blue water seen by the media is a routine chemical for crowd control, not teargas.”
He doubled down on the claim on the following day.
“No rubber bullets or teargas were used,” Col. Kissana said. “The demonstrators felt a stinging sensation in their eyes because of some chemical in the blue water.”
Speaking to the parliamentary meeting today, Lt. Col. Chawalit from the riot police unit said the police resorted to using teargas because the protesters did not leave the protest site after officers used only water.
“When the situation failed to resolve, we employed teargas to disperse the crowd,” he said. “Security officers conducted themselves based on universal standards, legal framework, and situations at the time.”
Police officials attempted to muddle the water again on Sunday night after a riot police water truck opened fire on demonstrators close to the Grand Palace.
Police insisted the cannons were only aimed at the sky to create droplets of water on the demonstrators, but videos and photographs of the incident show the high pressure water being launched directly at the protesters at times.