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Mass Suffocations In South Thailand Security Op.

Mass Suffocations In South Thailand Security Operation

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- At least 84 people died, mostly from suffocation so severe their eyes bled, after being arrested and locked inside army trucks in Thailand's Muslim-majority south during clashes with security forces, officials said.

"Seventy-eight people were found dead on arrival in the vans at the military camp," Thailand's most respected pathologist, Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan, said in an interview on Tuesday (Oct. 26).

"They showed bleeding in the eyes, in the white part of the eyeballs, and bleeding on the body underneath the skin, only tiny spots of bleeding" which are evidence of "suffocation," Dr. Porntip said.

She examined the corpses with a team of other doctors at the military camp in the southern province of Pattani.

The deaths occurred on Monday (Oct. 25) after security forces fired live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons at more than 2,000 angry people in nearby Narathiwat province, including some who stormed the Tak Bai district police station.

The protestors demanded the release of six Muslim men who were jailed on suspicion of stealing weapons from pro-government volunteers.

During several hours of clashes, at least six people died from bullet wounds, according to officials on Monday who made no mention of any suffocation deaths.

About 1,300 people were arrested and taken away in vehicles from the site, and an overnight curfew was announced on Monday night, they said.

The 78 additional deaths occurred after the arrested people were locked inside "many vans" which "belong to the army", Dr. Porntip said in the interview by cell phone while she was investigating the deaths in Pattani.

"They were all males" Dr. Porntip said of the dead.

"There were no gunshot wounds on the bodies" of the 78 males, said Dr. Porntip who was honored by Thailand's king in 2003 for her nationwide forensic work.

"From the medical examination, nearly 80 percent of them [the dead] showed signs of asphyxiation, and 20 percent of them showed convulsion, maybe caused by electrolyte imbalance, dehydration and heat stroke while in the vans," she said.

Asphyxiation, or suffocation, occurs from an extreme decrease in oxygen in a person's body accompanied by an increase of carbon dioxide, and can be caused by a lack of air, choking, drowning, electric shock, injury, or the inhalation of toxic gases.

"When they collapsed, they cannot move," Dr. Porntip said of the victims who perished in the trucks amid tropical heat before the army vehicles' doors were unlocked and officials discovered piles of dead people.

"After we brought people who were arrested into detention, we found that another 78 people were dead," Thailand's Justice Ministry spokesman Manit Suthaporn told reporters on Tuesday (Oct. 26) in Pattani.

"According to the investigation of the dead bodies, they died because of suffocation," Mr. Manit said.

This latest horror in southern Thailand comes after security forces, backed by armored personnel carriers and helicopters, attacked the Krue Se mosque in April killing all 38 armed, Islamic "militants" inside the mosque, during scattered clashes which left more than 100 suspects dead in the south's worst day of bloodshed.

Some Muslims have been fighting for greater autonomy or independence in the south amid complaints of extrajudicial executions, torture and other abuses by security forces in Buddhist-majority Thailand.

The government denies most accusations of mistreatment and insists it is trying to control the south and crush the unrest.

For more than a year, insurgents have carried out almost daily killings by shooting, stabbing and bombing security officials, Buddhist monks, teachers, farmers, businessmen, suspected informants and others.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a former police official who trained in the United States, has repeatedly failed to bring peace the south despite crackdowns against private Islamic schools and monetary sweeteners for villagers who cooperate with the government.

Thai officials have expressed concern that the chaos and bloodshed in the region which borders Muslim-majority Malaysia, may inspire Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network to infiltrate and fuel the violence, but there has been no evidence of direct foreign funding or training of insurgents in Thailand.

Thailand's minority ethnic Malay rebels, however, are widely believed to be inspired by Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiyah, which Washington considers a "terrorist" organization seeking to unite southern Thailand with Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines in a Muslim caliphate ruled by ancient sharia laws drawn from the Koran, Islam's holiest book.

In June, Washington delivered 30 UH-1 helicopters to Bangkok to help security forces attack Muslim militants in the south.

In March, the Thai government said "insurgents" stole 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of ammonium nitrate from a quarry in southern Thailand -- enough to build a bomb capable of toppling a huge building.

In January, the government enforced martial law on Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces after unidentified men attacked an army barracks and stole hundreds of assault rifles.


Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is


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