Monday, April 3, 2006

The Tragedy of Tak Bai

"For anyone willing to spend 100 Baht (€ 2) they could watch uniformed Thai security forces shoot, beat, and ultimately murder 76 Malay-Muslim citizens of Thailand." Although the soldiers pictured here were not involved in the Tak Bai incident they, and the whole armed forces, have a more difficult job assuring citizens that they are there to protect them. Fourth Army soldiers guarding a Buddhist Wat, Pattani - 2005.

If claims of abuse by the military and police had been hard to substantiate in the past, the events of October 25, 2004 turned suspicion into fact.

Malay-Muslims had gathered in protest at a police station in the far Southern border town of Tak Bai.

The protesters were angry over the arrest of local village defense volunteers whom, the police had claimed, had surrendered their government supplied firearms to suspected Islamic insurgents.

Water cannons were initially used to break the lines of protesters yet non-lethal tactics were quickly abandoned when protesters responded by throwing rocks and a firearm was rumored to have been discharged.

The security forces, comprised of both police and Thailand’s Fourth Army, trained their new American made M-16 rifles on the crowd and opened fire.

In the ensuing violence seven protesters died from gunshot wounds while hundreds were handcuffed, dragged into the police station compound, and “stacked like bricks” onto waiting trucks (BBC –

As news began to emerge from the confrontation it was revealed that 76 protestors died in the protest - the majority suffocating will stacked on the military trucks awaiting transportation.

The incident in Tak Bai drew global protest from Islamic groups, human rights organizations, foreign governments, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, and considerable wrath from the Malaysian government.

Yet most damaging for Thaksin’s government was the fact that Thai security forces had filmed the whole violent episode.

The video footage was leaked to the public and cheap VCD's of the incident were sold in the markets across the country. For anyone willing to spend 100 Baht (€ 2) they could watch uniformed Thai security forces shoot, beat, and ultimately murder 76 Malay-Muslim citizens of Thailand.

As the video footage was replayed across Thai TV screens the country was both shocked and outraged.

Anger at the government and sympathy for the victims were common sentiments expressed in Bangkok. Yet the way the video was perceived in the deep South was a little different.

Obviously shock and anger were felt but many Southern residents looked at the video as proof to claims that the Thai state was actively persecuting Malay-Muslims.

It is not hard to imagine that the video created a new flood recruits into the ranks of militant organizations.

Although the video was a clear public relations disaster in the effort to pacify the South, Prime Minister Thaksin further enraged Southern residents, and arguably the country, by refusing to at least offer a public apology.

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