Thai soldiers shoot civilians – by mistake

Relatives of a Jaeyaro Arwae, who was seriously wounded in a shooting by soldiers, gather at Mayor Hospital in Pattani. (Photo by Abdulloh Benjakat)

PATTANI: Three family members were wounded, one seriously, after soldiers fired at their pickup truck during what the army said was a shootout with suspected insurgents in a nearby forest.

However, the driver of the pickup is disputing the army’s version of events and has asked police to investigate further.

The shooting occurred shortly after the silver Mitsubishi with Betong licence plates drove past a checkpoint at Ban Krasor in tambon Krasor of Mayor district around 9pm Friday.

Jaeyaro Arwae, 57, sustained severe gunshot wounds to the back and two of her daughters were wounded, said Mayor police.

Ussaman Kalaesa, 27, the driver of the pickup and son of Mrs Jaeyaro, said his family was returning home to tambon Krasor after taking his youngest brother to study at an Islamic ponoh school in Yala. His mother was sitting in the front passenger seat and four other family members were in the rear seats inside the vehicle.

He said he saw flashing lights in front of him when he arrived at the scene, with at least 10 soldiers patrolling the area. He slowed his vehicle in case they wanted to stop it for a search, but one soldier standing to his right signalled for him to go ahead. But after he had driven ahead for about 100 metres, gunshots were fired at the back of his vehicle, he said.

As he heard his mother cry out with pain, he looked back and saw she had been shot. His two younger sisters were also injured slightly. He immediately sped off to Mayor Hospital, where Mrs Jaeyaro remains in critical condition while her daughters were discharged.

Mr Ussaman said his two sisters were treated for cuts caused by shattered glass. Rokeeya Kalaesa, 24, was cut on the lips and Fatima Kalaesa, 18, was struck on the legs and arms. He said his nieces, one aged 3 and the other 8 months, had minor injuries from broken glass.

Maj Gen Jatuporn Klampasut, commander of the special Pattani military task force unit, visited the injured victim and her family at the hospital.

He said that 22 soldiers from the task force who were patrolling the route had set up a checkpoint. Shortly afterward, gunshots were fired at them from the roadside forest, prompting the soldiers to return fire. The pickup truck happened to be driving by at the time, said Maj Gen Jatuporn.

However, Mr Ussaman said he did not believe there was an exchange of gunfire between insurgents and soldiers at the time. None of the soldiers he saw showed any sign of attempting to escape shots, if fired by insurgents as claimed.

A team of forensic police on Saturday found 18 spent cartridges at the shooting scene, believed to be from bullets fired by soldiers. The victims’ pickup truck will be examined to determine the bullets’ trajectory.

Maj Gen Jatuporn expressed regret over the incident and apologised to the family. The Pattani task force would take responsibility for the incident and provide assistance to the family, he added.

All 22 soldiers involved in the operation were called back to the unit to report to their commander. If a police investigation is warranted, they would be immediately handed over to police, he said. – Bangkok Post

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