Government ready to compensate victims’ families if rangers guilty: Defence Minister


BANGKOK, Feb 2 — Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat pledged on Thursday that the government stood ready to provide full compensation to the families of four slain villagers in Pattani’s Nong Chik district if the paramilitary rangers were found guilty during their Sunday night’s operation in response to the attack of their base.

ACM Sukumpol said that he could not yet say who was right or wrong in the incident as the authorities are investigating to establish the facts.

He said the government did not want incidents like this to happen but if the rangers were found to have acted wrongly, the government would take responsibility and compensate the survivors.

“The government has initially compensated the victims and an additional Bt500,000 compensation would be given to the families of those killed,” the defence minister said. “If the investigation concludes that the rangers were wrong, the government has no problem in awarding Bt7.5 million to each family.”

The minister said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is not ignoring the issue but has called him asking for more information.

ACM Sukumpol responded to a query of opposition Democrat Party Pattani MP Ismael Ben-ibrohim who sought an explanation from the prime minister during Thursday’s parliamentary session.

Mr Ismael said the the rangers apparently fired at the civilian vehicle, killing four and wounding four. Following the shooting, villagers and the district chief were not allowed by the rangers to inspect the scene. He also cited the accounts of the four wounded survivors who said they were angry when they saw that firearms were planted in their vehicle.

The opposition MP described the incident as “extremely shocking” but said he had not heard any reaction from the premier to the incident so far.

“I want to know how the government will compensate them. In this case, I think that each family of the dead victims should receive 10 million baht.” Mr Ismael said, adding that the amount is not much comparing to the Bt7.5 million compensation for supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (the red shirt movement).

The incident happened Sunday night when unknown assailants fired three M-79 grenades at a ranger base in Nong Chik district. The rangers fired back and pursued the group and found a suspicious pick-up truck.

The rangers challenged the men in the vehicle to identify themselves, but heard a gunshot in response as they approached the vehicle. According to the military explanation, the soldiers then shot at the vehicle.

The authorities initially believed that the truck’s passengers were involved with the insurgent group but later admitted that they were local residents who were heading to a funeral of their relative.

Meanwhile, Pattani shooting survivor Mae Doloh, 76, told a Thai News Agency reporter Thursday that he, his nephew, and seven other villagers were on their way to attend a funeral when the attack occurred.

Mr Ma-e said five persons were sitting at the open-rear space of the pickup truck while he, the driver and two others were in the cab when a group of about four or five army personnel stopped the car.

As a soldier ordered us to stop the car, the survivor said, one of passengers shouted back to them that “We are good persons. We are villagers and are attending a funeral at Tung Bho village.”

Mr Ma-e said gunshots were heard a few minutes later and the hails of bullets headed to his pickup truck. The person sitting just next to him was instantly killed.

“I was shot at my right leg and foot. I was really hurt and bleeding. I remained conscious though but pretended to have died otherwise I could not survive. As I heard someone shouted “Are they all dead yet?  Shoot them to death!”  After a while, I heard an oncoming car hit my vehicle twice. Even though I had deep pain because my leg was broken I dared not to ask for help for fear that I would be shot to death. Hours later, I saw a person in white shoes who was not a soldier open the car door and I begged for help. Someone rushed to remove my body to hospital,” said the 76-year-old as he recalled his life-threatening moment.

The victim of the latest violence in southern border region said he was disappointed with the military and never expected such an incident in his life.

Mr Mae said, before the incident took place, he had given good cooperation to army personnel who stopped at his village, but now he feels very angry and wants the troops to withdraw from the village.