The army is to punish three high-ranking military officials who were blamed for the deaths of 87 mostly Muslim protesters last year by giving them a job transfer. Local leaders say the three should face prosecution.


An independent commission blamed the men, southern commander Lieutenant-General Pisarn Wattanawongkeeree, Major-General Sinchai Nutsathit and Major-General Chalermchai Wirunthep, for the deaths, while a military investigation later defended them and recommended a transfer as punishment.

Muslim leaders are demanding a prosecution as a step towards reconciliation in Thailand's southern provinces.

 

"Unless justice in the case is done through our country's legal system, one should not expect a swift return to peace and reconciliation in the region," Nideh Waba, a member of the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, told the Bangkok Post.


Transferral is not enough

"Removing them from their security jobs is not enough since they had much abused their authority during the Tak Bai incident," Hajji Wahap Abdul Wahap, a former Pattani Islamic Committee chairman, told the paper.


"Unless justice in the case is done through
our country's legal system, one should not expect a swift return to peace and reconciliation in the region"


Nideh Waba,
a member of the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand

Rights groups have accused the government of heavy-handedness and using disproportionate force in dealing with the south.

On Tuesday Thai army spokesman Colonel Acar Tiproch said: "The three generals carried out their duties in good faith, but they must take responsibility for the mistake by being transferred from their posts."


A source at the Defence Ministry said military rules prevented harsher punishment for high-ranking officials, but said the military would lay official blame for the incident on the three generals.

 

"The ministry will lay official blame, the harshest punishment so far, against them. That will stamp the rest of their military career; it's equivalent to them losing credibility," the source said.


Retaining ranks
 

Lieutenant-General Pisarn, Major-General Sinchai, and Major-General Chalermchai were found negligent in their duties by an army investigation into the 25 October tragedy.

 

Thai generals are blamed for the
mass suffocation of protesters

Eighty-seven protesters were killed after the military stepped in and broke up a demonstration in the southern province of Narathiwat, including 78 people who died of mass suffocation and broken necks while in custody, according to Human Rights Watch.

Most of the protesters were bound and piled on top of each other in the backs of army trucks.

 

The transfers would take effect during the regular mid-year military reshuffle in April which requires approval from Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Acar said.

The three will retain their ranks and their transfers to advisory positions do not prevent them from taking command posts in the future.