Thai use of force judged excessive

The head of an independent inquiry into the killing of 32 Muslim rebels inside a mosque in April has accused security forces of using excessive force.

    The army's storming of the Krue Se mosque led to a bloodbath

    Former judge Suchinda Yongsunthorn said on Wednesday security forces with heavy weaponry stormed the historic Krue Se mosque and killed Muslim fighters armed only with machetes

    and a single gun.

    The storming of the mosque on 28 April was the final battle of a disastrous uprising that left 108 rebels dead.

    It sparked international condemnation amid widespread accusations from the Muslim community that the authorities had been heavy-handed in crushing the unrest - part of a continuing uprising that has seen more than 250 killed this year.

    No one blamed

    In a report delivered to Prime Minister Thaksin

    Shinawatra, the six-strong committee did not blame any individual

    and cleared the military of wrongdoing since martial law had already

    been imposed across parts of the country's restive south.

    But asked if he believed the security

    forces had used too much force against the lightly armed rebels,

    Suchinda said: "Yes, I do feel that way.

    "Various evidence convinced me, such as the many heavy

    weapons ... and machine guns used by the military, while the

    militants had only machetes and one gun with not many stolen

    bullets," he said.

    "Based on the evidence, we found that the military was

    authorised in its use of force under martial law but public pressure

    at the scene also partly fuelled
    the storming"

    Suchinda Yongsunthorn, retired Thai judge who headed the
    28 April violence inquiry

    "The conclusion was neutral, did not point out directly who was

    to blame and it's merely a direct report of what happened."

    He added: "Based on the evidence, we found that the military was

    authorised in its use of force under martial law but public pressure

    at the scene also partly fuelled the storming."

    Gen. Panlop Pinmanee, the military commander who ordered the

    operation, said he made the right decision to save the lives of

    his men and to prevent the uprising from spreading.

    'Ready to explain'

    Three members of the security forces were killed at the mosque

    and eight injured, General Pinmanee said.

    "I had no choice. If I had delayed my decision by two or three

    hours, there would have been more catastrophe according to

    surrendered militants, who said they had planned simultaneous

    attacks in five provinces.

    Bangkok is planning to launch a
    fresh round of army operations

    "I am ready to explain my actions to every party concerned,

    including the prime minister."

    Thaksin set up the inquiry committee - which includes four

    Muslim members - after coming under fierce international pressure

    to investigate the killings at the mosque.

    The uprising on 28 April also left five members of the security

    forces dead during fighting in three Muslim-dominated provinces of

    Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

    Thailand's south has seen decades of separatist agitation, but

    after a period of relative peace, trouble flared at the start of

    this year, with bombings and killings targeting officials, security

    forces and Buddhist monks.

    Southern unrest

    The violence sparked fears the conflict could broaden into major strife between Muslims, a majority in the south, and the overwhelmingly Buddhist population in Thailand.

    PM Shinawatra is seen by some
    Thais as too supportive of Bush

    Analysts say Thailand's Muslim-majority south has been largely excluded from

    the country's recent rapid development, while at the same time Islam has been a growing factor in local politics.

    Suchinda said it was down to Thaksin whether or not to make the

    report public, but warned "heavy-handed" tactics by the government

    would not solve the problem.

    The retired constitutional court judge said the

    separatist movement, widespread smuggling and the abuse of power by

    officials appointed by Bangkok, all contributed to the violence.

    However, Thaksin's government signalled on Tuesday it was ready to embark on

    renewed tough military action as killings continued after low-key

    talks with the rebels.



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