Four slain villagers in Pattani not insurgents: Deputy PM Yuthasak

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BANGKOK, Jan 31 — Deputy Prime Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha conceded on Tuesday that the four villagers slain Sunday night in Pattani were not insurgents, pledging fair treatment and justice to be given to both military rangers and families of the four.

The Pattani governor and Region 4 Army commander have been assigned to probe the incident in which four Muslim villagers were shot to death in Nong Chik district Sunday night, Gen Yuthasak said.

Meanwhile, a military investigation found that the victims were not linked to any armed militant group in the southernmost provinces.

Speaking before the weekly cabinet meeting, Gen Yuthasak, who supervises national security, said Pattani Governor Teera Mintrasak and Region 4 Army commander Lt-Gen Udomchai Thammasarorat were investigating the matter and considered the legality of the military operation, that is whether the rangers acted under the rules of engagement.

He said the military has a code of conduct in reference to targets but the circumstances and situation on the day must be taken into consideration to rule regarding who was right or wrong.

If the rangers’ action was correct, then the authorities will proceed to seek better understanding with the villagers and the wider public, he said.

The deputy premier conceded that the operation might not have been entirely appropriate as the investigation showed that the four were not insurgents. The Region 4 Army commander reported that one person might have used the eight innocent people as human shields. If so, an investigation was needed to clarify the incident.

Gen Yuthasak said he believed the incident would not escalate into more complicated situation as the probe was underway. If any officials were found to be wrong, they were ready to apologise.

He pledged to give fair treatment and justice to both the rangers and the families of the four killed to prevent any misunderstanding.

An unknown number of assailants fired three M-79 grenades at a ranger base in Nong Chik district late Sunday night. The rangers fired back and pursued the group. A departing attacker reportedly ran and jumped into a pick-up truck. The rangers then alerted local authorities to intercept them until they 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. The soldiers then shot at the vehicle resulting in four dead and five wounded.

As for the firearms found in the pickup truck, Gen Yuthsak said the villagers believed they were left in the vehicle, but the rangers asserted that they did not leave the firearms in the truck.

Pattani governor Theera Mintrasak said he ordered setting up a fact-finding committee to probe the case and a result is expected to be known within 30 days. The case will proceed in accordance with judicial procedures.

The governor expressed deep sorrow for families of the dead and wounded, saying he and the village head have spoken with residents to build understanding and compensated each family with Bt100,000.