Thai soldier who killed activist to face charge: police

Chaiyaphum Pasae was a prominent campaigner for stateless communities in Thailand’s border regions. Photo: YouTube
Chaiyaphum Pasae was a prominent campaigner for stateless communities in Thailand’s border regions. Photo: YouTube

A Thai soldier who shot dead a prominent youth activist will be charged, police said Tuesday, after the kingdom’s junta leader ordered an investigation following widespread public outrage.

Chaiyaphum Pasae, a campaigner for stateless communities in Thailand’s border regions, was shot dead on Friday morning in northern Chiang Mai province after the car he was in was stopped at a military checkpoint.

The army says soldiers found drugs inside the car and opened fire after Chaiyaphum bolted from the vehicle and threatened to throw a grenade at them.

But his friends have taken to social media to say that narrative does not chime with the behavior of an activist renowned for his community campaigns against drugs, who worked on documentaries, music and gave talks on rights for minority tribal groups — such as his own Lahu people.

‘Be proud’ is a song written and sung by Chaiyaphum Pasae. It addresses to the stateless people in northern Thailand to be confident and proud of their roots.

Maj. Gen. Panudej Boonreung, deputy police commander for Thailand’s northern region, told AFP the unnamed soldier will face a charge of “murder while acting in self-defense.”

But he added prosecutors will decide “whether to indict or not” only once facts are established.

Rights groups are concerned the military, which currently runs Thailand, cannot be relied upon to investigate.

Advocacy organisation the Cross Cultural Foundation (CCrF) called for an investigation to be conducted by a non-military “commission of inquiry.”

It also urged witness protection for a 19-year-old who was also in the car, who has been detained since the incident.

Scores of other activists have died over the last decade in Thailand, where the powerful often lean on local networks to cover up wrongdoing.

Junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army general who seized power in 2014, appeared to recognize public anger on Tuesday.

“I have ordered an investigation into the cause of this incident,” he told reporters, though he urged the public to refrain from criticizing the military.

Human Rights Watch said the slaying of Chaiyaphum had “set alarm bells ringing” and urged Thai authorities to “thoroughly and impartially investigate this case and make their findings public.”

Chaiyaphum was one of Thailand’s stateless citizens — members of ethnic groups who have been allowed to stay since the Cold War-era but are denied citizenship, as are their children.

The military described the young activist as a 21-year-old, but friends told Thai media he was 17.

The district where the killing occurred is in northern Thailand near Myanmar, a notorious drug route used by well-armed trafficking groups.

The CCrF believe the military unit that shot Chaiyaphum was involved in another checkpoint killing last month where similar justification of a suspect trying to throw a grenade at soldiers was given.

Junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree said he was unaware of those claims, but said drug traffickers frequently “resist arrest” in the region where Chaiyaphum died adding the army “doesn’t cover them up at all.”

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