Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Prayut’s military junta in Thailand have blood on their hands once again. Death squads have crossed the border into neighbouring Lao to abduct and murder exiled opponents and critics of the junta and the monarchy.
DNA analysis has confirmed that two of the bodies found in the Mekong River at Nakorn Panom were that of “Pu-Chana” and “Kasalong”, close comrades of Surachai Darnwatananusorn. It is believed by a number of credible journalists that there was also a third body in the river which belonged to Surachai. That body cannot now be located. All three men had been living together in exile in Lao after Prayut’s military coup. They had been missing from their homes for over a month and there were clear signs of abduction.
The bodies were washed ashore on the Thai side of the Mekong River. The victims had been brutally mutilated, killed, tied up in sacking with concrete weights, and thrown in the river.
There is a history of abductions and killings of dissidents living in Lao. “Ko Tee”, a radio broadcaster and Redshirt activist, was abducted by 10 Thai-speaking men in black in July 2017. A year earlier, Ittipon Sukpaen, aka “DJ Sunho”, disappeared and was never seen again.
Prayut and the Thai military junta must be held to account for these brutal murders. Naturally, like all governments which use death squads, they will deny any responsibility and any knowledge of how the killings took place and it will be difficult to find e-mail trails or written confirmation of any direct orders.
But the junta has form.
The top generals were involved with killing unarmed red shirt protesters in 2010. The Thai military operates death squads against Muslim Malays in Patani, and since Prayut’s 2014 coup, the junta have increased repression, especially with the use of the lèse-majesté law.
The junta’s extreme royalism has encouraged rabid and aggressive royalists such as Maj. Gen. Riantong Nanna, leader of the ultra-royalist vigilante group known as the “Rubbish Collection Organisation”. According to an article in the Japan Times by exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Riantong once wrote on his Facebook page that he would send a gunman to kill a critic of the monarchy who was living in Paris if he could do so. [See https://bit.ly/2UaJYnq]. Riantong has never been admonished by the military junta for his behaviour and he remains director of Mongkutwattana Hospital in Bangkok.
It is highly likely that Surachai and his comrades were abducted and murdered by a death squad linked to the Thai military.
Opponents of the junta living in exile in Lao do not have protection from the Lao government as formal refugees. The Lao authorities merely tolerate their presence on an unofficial basis. This means that armed men can cross over the border and hunt them down at will. For this reason many exiles have to constantly move house. Added to this is the fact that up to now Western countries have refused to take these exiles as asylum seekers.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also been unhelpful, mainly because Lao does not allow the organisation into the country.
Despite the murders being highlighted by Human Rights Watch [https://bit.ly/2FRHjuS], the Thai National Human Rights Commission has so far been silent, preferring instead to publish proclamations condemning violence used by oppressed opponents of the Thai State in Patani. The NGOs and various political parties have not issued any statements either.
It is unlikely that the Lao government will do anything meaningful to investigate this atrocity. Their priority is to maintain good relations with the Thai ruling class. Besides, at least one Lao activist has also disappeared in recent years.
We must hold the Thai junta to account for the deaths of Surachai and his comrades.