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Cameraman 'not shot by soldier'

The controversy surrounding the death of a Japanese cameraman who was shot dead in Bangkok has been reignited after Thai investigators announced they had reversed the conclusion of a preliminary inquiry that suggested he had most likely been killed by soldiers.

Last December, parts of the investigation team's initial report obtained by Reuters said its employee, the 43-year-old Hiro Muramoto, was shot on 10 April by a bullet fired from the direction of government troops.

A witness told the team from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) that they had seen "a flash from a gun barrel of a soldier" and then watched as the cameraman fell to the ground.

But yesterday, the director general of the DSI, Tharit Pengdith, said that subsequent inquiries had led them to believe the cameraman was killed by a bullet of a calibre not used by the troops on duty. He said Mr Muramoto was killed by a 7.62 mm calibre and soldiers that day were armed with M-16 rifles that fire 5.56 mm bullets.

"The bullet that shot Muramoto was 7.62 mm ... It could be an AK-47 or something similar...but exactly who shot him I can't answer. We need more investigation," he said. "The bullet came from the direction of the troops but we don't know who fired it because they were surrounded by Red Shirt protesters."

Yesterday's claim is just the latest twist in the aftermath of violence last spring in Bangkok when thousands of Red Shirt protesters clashed with security forces. At least 90 people were killed, three of them journalists and perhaps as many as 1,800 people were wounded.

The Thai authorities and prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva have faced intense criticism over their handling of the situation from both the Red Shirts, many of them followers of the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and human rights groups.

The government has said it will investigate what happened, but reports suggest inquiries have been hampered by a lack of co-operation from the army. Despite widespread evidence, including video footage and photographs that show troops firing at civilians with live rounds, the military insisted it was not responsible for any deaths. At a press conference yesterday, Mr Tharit denied there had been any pressure from the military and inquiries would continue.