Thailand’s DSI: Cameraman not killed by soldiers during 2010 protests

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 27, 2011

The Department of Special Investigation has revealed new evidence regarding the death of Japanese Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto, who was killed while covering the violent clashes on April 10 last year during the red shirts protests, that re-interprets the circumstances:

The army is breathing a sigh of relief after a Department of Special Investigation (DSI) report concluded troops were not responsible for the death of a Japanese cameraman during last year’s red shirt protests.

However, the relief may be short-lived, amid claims that the army chief of staff paid the DSI head a visit to complain about an initial department finding which claimed the opposite – that soldiers should in fact be blamed for Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto’s death during the rally at Khok Wua intersection on April 10 last year.

The DSI is likely to face questions about why it changed its stance, though DSI director-general Tharit Pengdit yesterday stood by the latest report, saying it was based on scientific and forensic findings. He also denied meeting the army chief of staff.

The weapons report, which he did not release, found that the Reuters News Agency cameraman was shot dead with an AK-47 rifle while covering the clashes. In that case, troops could not be blamed for the death, said the report, because they carried different weapons.

Mr Tharit said Muramoto’s body was found with AK-47 bullet wound patterns. Soldiers had not used the weapon, he said.

DSI changes ruling on cameraman’s death“, Bangkok Post, February 27, 2011

This comes after an earlier DSI report, which has been leaked to Reuters, showing that…

Muramoto, a 43-year-old Japanese national based in Tokyo, was killed by a high-velocity bullet wound to the chest while covering protests in Bangkok’s old quarter.

The report quoted a witness who said Muramoto collapsed as gunfire flashed from the direction of soldiers. Thailand’s government has not yet publicly released the report into his death despite intense diplomatic pressure from Japan.

Exclusive: Probe reveals Thai troops’ role in civilian deaths“, Reuters, December 10, 2010

The DSI explains this contradiction with the presence of armed, black-clad men, that reportedly roamed the streets during the clashes and were either allegedly red shirt security guards of rouge red shirt General Seh Daeng (who honestly was a loose canon – no one was really sure what he and his men were up to) or allegedly a ‘third hand’ to deliberately create chaos, depending on who’s making these allegations. But, to adapt what Bangkok Pundit said at one time, it could have been the mysterious gunmen standing next to the soldiers, which they didn’t notice anyhow. On the other hand though…

An army source (…) also said the army had imported about 20,000 AK-47 rifles into the country two decades ago. About 19,000 of them had been distributed for use at military camps nationwide, while the rest were kept at the army’s weapon storage site.

DSI changes ruling on cameraman’s death“, Bangkok Post, February 27, 2011

No doubt that the investigations into the circumstances of the many people killed during the protests last year is an impossibly difficult task. It can be expected that gathering evidence and witness accounts will be an uphill battle, especially when dealing with government authorities who are either unwilling to cooperate or directly intervene as indicated above. But also lot of pressure is coming from the red shirts demanding clarification and, more importantly, responsibility.

What is more important, though, is that the probes have to be thorough and impartial. With many cases still inconclusive (including the death of the other foreign journalist Fabio Polenghi), the DSI investigations so far do not help to ease the tensions in this still volatile political atmosphere, where one side is demanding the truth and the other side apparently fearing that the truth will create unrest. But this increases the dissatisfaction (and impatience) even more and leaves yet another wound in the Thai historical soul.

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