Thailand: Thais to study mass graves in sectarian killings inquiry
- Thais to study mass graves in sectarian killings
By Jan McGirk in Bangkok
Published: 31 May 2006
Hundreds of nameless bodies dumped at an ethnic
Chinese cemetery in southern Thailand are to be dug up
and examined in a grim reminder of the neglected chaos
on this country's southern border.
After months of foot-dragging, officials have ordered
a government forensics team to exhume 300 unmarked
graves in Pattani province. Human-rights activists
suspect that these unknown corpses might include
suspected Muslim insurgents who were abducted and
executed by government death squads.
Nearly 1,300 people have died in the 30 months since
violence re-erupted in Thailand's impoverished deep
south, home to some three million Muslims. The
majority of these anonymous bodies turned up in
Pattani, a former sultanate near the Malaysian
frontier where a dormant separatist insurgency has
reignited, but almost 200 more were tracked down in
neighbouring Yala and Narathiwat provinces, where
bloodshed is increasing. Kidnaps, bombs and beheadings
are almost daily occurrences.
The governor of Pattani, Panu Athairat, insisted that
333 of the 435 unclaimed bodies found in early March
belonged to migrant fishermen from Cambodia, Laos and
Burma. He claimed that around 100 bodies had simply
washed ashore from passing trawlers. Authorities
denied any link to a crackdown on Islamic insurgents
in the three restive border provinces.
Mr Panu stressed: "Only 10 of the bodies were found to
be Muslim workers from fishing trawlers, and were
given to religious leaders for proper burials in
But Dr Porntip Rojanasunand, the Justice Ministry
forensics chief, was sceptical: "Police believe they
were illegal immigrant workers and 80 per cent of them
were killed. I plan to perform DNA tests on those
bodies." Exhumation will start Monday at the Tong Dek
Xiang Teung graveyard in Pattanis Muang district.
Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, who last week called for
an investigation of the graves, has documented alleged
abductions and extrajudicial killings near the border.
He said: "The families of the victims in the south
feel they cannot go to the Government. It is too
dangerous. Many people have been forcibly disappeared
in the south and these atrocities must be
investigated." He added: "It has at least been
confirmed that these notorious mass graves were found.
Perhaps killings have been perpetrated on immigrant
workers, as well."
When an overcrowded cemetery in Pattani sought
permission to cremate unidentified corpses to free up
burial plots, 300 unclaimed bodies came to light.
Nearly all were male.
"This is very suspicious, given the campaign against
the Muslim community," said Senator Kraisak. "We need
to exhume and examine the bodies and determine whether
deaths were caused by unnatural means. We must be
allowed to find the cause - whether there are bullet
holes in the skulls, or whatever."
He said the "intensified killings, and almost
illogical violence" in the south has been kept out of
the news by a political breakdown in Bangkok. Security
officers responsible for the deaths of 85 Muslim
protesters in October 2004 and 105 Islamic militants
in April that year had gone unpunished, in fact most
have been promoted.
After an seven-week break, the first thing on Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's agenda last week was the
violence in the south. More than 100 government
schools in Narathiwat province are now closed because
students and staff are too intimidated to attend.
Schools have been targeted in shootings. One young
teacher is in a coma after villagers held her hostage
to swap for two locals arrested as insurgents. A
senior army strategist estimated that about 100 of the
1,520 villages in the south were deeply infiltrated by
"There was no real effort to bring ethnic Malays into
the intelligence community when things were quiet for
nearly a decade," a senior army intelligence officer
told the Nation, a Bangkok daily. A new generation of
Islamic separatists, mostly trained at religious
schools, is asserting itself.
Most businesses are owned by wealthy Buddhists with
roots outside the area, fuelling the resentment of
local rubber tappers and fishermen. Barely 100 years
ago, this distinct region was ruled by a sultan, and
the pagodas of Bangkok seemed very remote indeed.
Caught between disasters, Javan villagers brave
"Am I nervous?" asked Heru Suparwaka, watching the
needle of the seismograph sketch a crazy route across
the page, accompanied by a high-pitched whine. "Of
course I'm nervous."
Mr Heru is part of a small team monitoring Mount
Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanoes, from
an observation post high on its slopes. The area, on
Indonesia's Java island, has been on red alert for
weeks, since Merapi began spewing out lava and clouds
of gas and hot ash. But since last weekend's
earthquake, its activity has intensified dramatically,
sparking fears of an imminent eruption.