BANGKOK — Thai police have retracted the accusation that five suspects recently arrested for their alleged connection to a Redshirt militant group were responsible for the murder of an army colonel during political unrest in 2010.
"This case is not related to the killing of Col. Romklao Thuvatham," said Pol.Col. Prasopchoke Prommool, deputy commander of the Crime Suppression Division.
Pol.Gen. Somyot Pumpanmuang, chief of Thai police, previously claimed that four men and one woman arrested last week were the "Blackshirt" militants responsible for attacking security officers during the military crackdown on Redshirt protesters on 10 April 2010. Pol.Gen. Somyot also accused the suspects of killing Col. Romklao, the commander of the crackdown.
Yet Pol.Col. Prasopchoke explained today that the five suspects have only been charged with possessing military-grade weapons and "using these weapons to shoot at soldiers and civilians" near Kok Wua Intersection on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, where another clash took place on the night that Col. Romklao was killed.
According to a DSI official, the five suspects are not currently being treated as suspects in the murder of Col. Romklao.
"More evidence is needed before it can be established that they were involved with the killing of Col. Romklao," the official, who requested anonymity, told Khaosod English today.
All of the suspects are currently being held in prison, and police are still searching for two more suspects, Pol.Col. Prasopchoke said.
Twenty civilians and five soldiers were killed in the clashes on 10 April 2010, nearly a month after the Redshirts descended into the capital city to demand a fresh election from then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The protests were eventually crushed by another military crackdown on 19 May 2010.
According to Pol.Gen. Somyot, all of the suspects were supporters of the Redshirt movement, confirming the Abhisit administration’s allegation that the Blackshirts were allied to the Redshirt protesters.
The retraction of the link between the Blackshirt suspects and the murder of Col. Romklao is only the latest inconsistency to puzzle observers and raise questions about the accuracy of the police investigation.
Pol.Gen. Somyot, who has refused to say how and when the suspects were arrested, also recently scaled back his claim that Kritsuda Kunasen, a 26-year-old Redshirt activist living in exile, supplied weapons and transferred payments to the militants.
Pol.Gen. Somyot later clarified the statement, saying police have yet to draw a clear link between the Ms. Kritsuda and the militants.
Some Redshirts have accused the Thai police chief of attempting to discredit Ms. Kritsuda after she accused soldiers of torturing her during her 27-day detainment in a military camp this June.
It's also unclear why one of the suspects, Kittisak Soomsri, was reportedly detained incommunicado in a military camp for a week prior to the press conference announcing the five suspects' arrests. Mr. Kittisak confessed to the charges during the press conference, though Thai police have a history of parading suspects in front of the media and extracting confessions from them that are later retracted.
Finally, many have questioned the likelihood that members of the Blackshirt cell are still in Thailand today; sources report that those connected to the violence in 2010 fled the country several years ago.
Weng Tojirakarn, a core activist of the Redshirts' umbrella organisation, the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), said he doubts the suspects were genuine members of the Blackshirt group.
"I wonder if they are in fact scapegoats who were coerced and tortured into confession," Mr. Weng said last week.
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