BANGKOK (AP) — An international human-rights group on Wednesday urged Thailand to investigate the slaying of an environmentalist who exposed the dumping of toxic waste, and demanded that it do more to protect activists.
Village headman Prajob Nao-opas was shot dead in the eastern province of Chachoengsao on Monday after he had been campaigning for the past year against the dumping by factories.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, urged the Thai government Wednesday to immediately bring those responsible for the killing to justice, "regardless of the status or political affiliation of the killers."
He said the killing of Prajob was "yet another example of the fundamental failure of Thai authorities to protect activists who risk their lives while defending their communities."
The New York-based group said more than 30 human rights defenders and environmentalists have been killed in Thailand since 2001. It said a suspect has been charged in fewer than 20 percent of those cases, and those convicted tend to have low responsibility.
"Police investigations have been characterized by half-hearted, inconsistent, and inefficient police work, and an unwillingness to tackle questions of collusion between political influences and interests and these killings of activists," Adams said.
Since February 2012, Prajob, 43, had led a campaign to expose waste dumping in Chachoengsao province, 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Bangkok, where local villagers have suffered from dangerous chemicals from industrial estates and factories along Thailand's eastern seaboard.
Department of Special Investigation official Pongin Intarakhao, who oversees the toxic disposal investigation, told The Associated Press that the killing of Prajob was "shocking" and that his agency will provide all information they have to help investigators.
"It's a pity that we have lost a leader in this long-fought battle who was vital to the locals' alliance," he said. "The killing only goes to show that the toxic waste dumping is a big issue that needs national and international attention since there is likely something else the dumpers were trying to bury."
Pongin said his department will keep working with the villagers to fight the dumping. He said investigators have pressed charges against a Thai man accused of overseeing dumping and prosecutors are working on the case.
Each year, 3.2 million tons of toxic waste and hazardous substances are produced in Thailand, according to the Pollution Control Department.