HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) — Four young men who were killed during a recent raid by government security forces in Thailand's violence-plagued south were not insurgents, an investigating panel said Tuesday, finding that the authorities involved should be prosecuted.
According to police, the four were killed and 22 other suspects detained on March 25 in the raid carried out by paramilitary troops, police and local officials in Thung Yangdaeng district of Pattani province.
More than 5,000 people have been killed since an Islamic insurgency erupted in 2004 in Thailand's three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, which are the only Muslim-majority areas in the predominantly Buddhist country. Insurgents have targeted Buddhist and Muslim civilians as well as soldiers and civil servants in brutal attacks including drive-by shootings and car bombings. Government forces have been accused of unjustified and illegal detention as well as torture.
Muslim residents have for decades complained of being treated as second-class citizens. The insurgents, who come from several loosely associated groups, have not made clear their goal, though they have spoken of separation from Thailand.
Pattani Gov. Weerapong Kaewsuwan said at a news conference that a fact-finding committee led by a provincial Islamic leader found that the four dead men, mostly in their 20s, were neither insurgents nor their sympathizers, and that their confrontation with the authorities took place some 300 meters (yards) away from where the raid was launched.
The committee suggested that the officials involved face prosecution and that the families of the dead men receive compensation, he said.
The fact-finding panel concluded that the basis for the raid was justified, but could not judge if guns and other weapons at the scene belonged to the four men who were shot, or if those responsible for the deaths had acted lawfully.
"At this stage, the committee is unable to examine the issue of whether there was armed resistance to the authorities, so we will leave it to the process of finding evidence and witnessed within the justice system," Weerapong said.
The government initiated counter-insurgency actions in Thung Yandaeng district last October after six schools were burned down by suspected militants.