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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Thailand to probe protest deaths
Relatives check names of the dead outside army camp in Pattani (27/10/04)
A list of the dead was posted outside the army base
The Thai prime minister has promised an investigation into the deaths of 78 people after a violent protest in the country's mainly Muslim south.

Thaksin Shinawatra regretted the heavy loss of life, adding that mistakes were made as hundreds were crammed into trucks and driven away for questioning.

Thai officials said most of the victims died from suffocation or were crushed to death while aboard the army trucks.

It took the Thai authorities more than 24 hours to announce the death toll.

The demonstration of hatred and disregard for humanitarianism simply reflected how the country is being governed
The Nation newspaper

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Kylie Morris, says Mr Thaksin's promise of an inquiry will bring some consolation.

But Islamic community leaders want a political rather than a military solution to help erase the memory of this latest brutal chapter, our correspondent says.

'Gentle measures'

Amnesty International had urged the Thai government to impartially investigate the deaths, in the province of Narathiwat.

Mr Thaksin said the government had resorted to "gentle measures" and did not use force.

I cannot say what [is] going to happen, but I believe that hell will break out
Abdulraman Abdulsamad, Islamic Council of Narathiwat

"We feel sorry," he said. "We tried to take care of them well. They should not have died.

"We will set up a committee to investigate why they were crowded into trucks until they couldn't breathe," he said.

The incident began on Monday after at least 1,500 protesters gathered outside a police station to protest against the detention of six men accused of providing weapons to Islamic militants.

In clashes which followed with security forces, at least six protesters were killed. More than 1,000 were then loaded into a handful of army trucks and driven for several hours to an army camp.

Thai officials said 78 people died while on the trucks.

0900 Monday (0200 GMT): 1,000 protesters gather at Takbai police station
Army urges protesters to disperse, but instead hundreds more join
1500: Protesters hurl objects at police, who use tear gas and fire bullets
Hundreds arrested and six deaths reported
1800 Tuesday: Officials admit 78 others died in army trucks after arrest, many of suffocation
Dr Pornthip Rojanasunan, a forensic expert for the Justice Ministry, told the BBC that 80% of the victims died from smothering or suffocation and 20% from stress or convulsions.

Army deputy commander Maj-Gen Sinchai Nujsathit admitted that "we had more than 1,300 people packed into the six-wheel trucks" for a journey to Pattani province that took five hours.

More violence feared

The country's press has been carrying photos of grieving family and strongly-worded commentary saying that Mr Thaksin and his alleged contempt for human rights was responsible for "this black day".

A local Islamic leader said he was in shock after being informed of the latest death toll.

"I cannot say what [is] going to happen, but I believe that hell will break out," Abdulraman Abdulsamad, the chairman of the Islamic Council of Narathiwat, told the Associated Press.

A local separatist organisation, the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), posted a warning on its website saying Bangkok would become a victim.

"Their capital will be burned down in the same way the Pattani capital has been burned," the statement said.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of neighbouring Malaysia, which shares a border with southern Thailand, said he hoped the government would prevent the crisis from spreading.

More than 400 people have died this year in clashes between militants and security forces in Thailand's southern provinces.

Muslims in the south have long complained of discrimination, and civil servants and security officers have been targeted in a wave of violence which began in January this year.

Muslim separatists fought a low-key insurgency in the region in the 1970s and 80s.

How Monday's tragedy unfolded

How Monday's tragedy unfolded

Guardian Unlimited 80 die in Thai police custody - 21 hrs ago
New York Times 78 Arrested in Thai Protests Suffocate in Crowded Trucks - 22 hrs ago
Arab News 78 Thai Muslims Suffocate to Death in Police Trucks - 22 hrs ago
Telegraph80 Thai Muslims suffocate after arrest - 23 hrs ago
Independent Seventy-eight Muslims suffocate in military lorries after riot in Thailand - 25 hrs ago
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27 Oct 04  |  Asia-Pacific
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Country profile: Thailand
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