Troops killed six unarmed people in temple during Thai 'Red Shirt' protests, court rules

Victims were among around 90 who lost lives in 2010 when anti-government protesters took to Bangkok streets

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The Independent Online

A court in Thailand has ruled that six unarmed people who were killed inside a Buddhist temple were shot dead by troops using high-velocity rounds who had taken up positions on railway tracks overlooking the site. The Thai military has always denied its troops fired into the temple.

In a ruling that could lead to the prosecution of the troops who took part in the operation, the Bangkok South Criminal Court said four men and one woman were killed by troops located on the elevated Skytrain, which passes nearby. Another man was shot by soldiers on the ground.

The six people killed were among around 90 who lost their lives in the spring of 2010 when thousands of "Red Shirt" anti-government protesters took to the streets of Bangkok and set up a makeshift base in the centre of the Thai capital. Most of the 90 people killed were protesters who were killed in clashes with the police.

The six people killed in the Wat Pathum temple were among more than a dozen who lost their lives on 19 May 2010 when the security forces broke up the Red Shirts' encampment in the Ratchaprasong area and ordered them to go home.

Fearing for their safety, hundreds of protesters, including women and children, poured into the nearby temple. Within a couple hours of them arriving, the crack of gunfire broke out around the temple and a number of people who were inside the compound were hit.

Among those killed was a 25-year-old woman, Kamolket Akahad, a Red Shirt supporter who had been working as volunteer medic and who went to the aid of those struck by the bullets.

On Tuesday, Ms Akahad's brother, Nattapat, called for the soldiers responsible to be prosecuted. "I'm so glad that I don't know what to say," he told the Associated Press. "This just confirms our stance that no amnesty should be granted to state's security officers who acted beyond what was necessary. The soldiers must be held accountable."

Tuesday's findings were the latest of a series of hearings. In previous cases, the court ruled that another five people were killed by guns used by military personnel and that an Italian photographer, 48-year-old Fabio Polenghi, 48, was killed by bullets fired from troops. It stopped short of assigning blame.

But at Tuesday's hearing, while the court said it could not specify which individuals had fired the bullets, it said the security forces present came from a ranger battalion and an infantry battalion of the Royal Thai Army.

While more than 20 Red Shirt protesters were jailed following the protests, no-one from the military or the government has been tried for their role in the death of the 90 people killed over a two-month period. Last year, murder charges were filed against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, but the case has gone nowhere. They have both denied the allegations.

On Tuesday, Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer who represents the Red Shirts and who is trying to have Mr Abhisit tried by an international court, told The Independent: "The lies of Abhisit and Suthep continue to unravel. It is only through trials and investigation that the truth will be obtained."

Tuesday's ruling comes amid fresh tension in Thailand where protesters have been gathering to oppose a bill to be introduced by the government that defeated and ousted Mr Abhisit in a 2011 election. The bill would give amnesty to those involved in political demonstrations since the 2006 military coup that ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The bill is to be introduced by Mr Thaksin's sister, Yingluck, who became prime minister after her Pheu Thai party defeated Mr Abhisit in the poll two years ago. The amnesty could pave the way for the return of Mr Thaksin from exile, a move that would be very controversial.