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Last Updated: Friday, 17 December, 2004, 14:07 GMT
Thai protest deaths 'unplanned'
25/10/2004 Thai security forces take handcuffed Muslims to a waiting truck at Takbai district
Thai authorities were widely criticised after the Takbai deaths
An enquiry into the deaths of 85 Muslim protesters in Thailand has concluded they were not killed deliberately, the head of the investigation has said.

The incident outraged locals in Thailand's troubled south because seven people were shot during clashes with police and 78 died in army trucks.

But Pichet Soontornpipit said there was no evidence the deaths were intended.

He was speaking after submitting the enquiry's report on the incident to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Muslim leaders in the region had hoped the report would criticise the authorities for using excessive force during the 25 October incident, when police broke up a protest in Takbai, southern Narathiwat province.

Hundreds of protesters were then loaded into army trucks, where 78 died - mainly of suffocation.

85 Muslim protesters died in Takbai, Narathiwat
Most suffocated to death after being piled into army trucks
Authorities accused of excessive force
Independent inquiry made up of 6 retired Buddhist officials and 3 Muslim scholars
In response to the wave of public criticism which followed, the government set up an independent human rights commission - headed by Mr Pichet - to investigate what had happened.

While the commission's report has not yet been officially published, Mr Pichet's comments on Friday appeared to indicate the government would be largely absolved.

Mr Thaksin, who faces a general election in February, has been under pressure to end a wave of violence in the south, where more than 500 people have been killed since January.

The nine-member panel found that the Takbai deaths were caused by the chaos which ensued because of the unexpected demonstration, Mr Pichet told Reuters news agency.

The incident was "abrupt" and the transport of those arrested done "in haste", he added.

All the protesters shot at the scene were killed by bullets which had travelled a considerable distance, suggesting the police had - as they insisted - fired into the air rather than directly at the protesters, Mr Pichet said.

Malaysia links

On the day the report was delivered to Mr Thaksin, four Islamic teachers - said to be "masterminds" of the recent violence - appeared in a Bangkok court.

The four were arrested on Thursday, and charged with terrorism-related offences.

Wae-usoh Waedueramae, left, one of the four suspected militant leaders who was captured earlier this week ( Friday 17 Dec)
Four teachers appeared in court on Friday charged with terrorism
Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula told local news agency TNA that despite the arrests, the situation in the south remained volatile and there was no room for complacency.

Mr Thaksin also warned that the insurgency would persist for some time, since many Thai men had received military training both at local Muslim schools and in Malaysia's Kelantan State. He also said a suspected separatist had recently fled to Malaysia.

"The sporadic violence will continue for some time because the movement has been brain washed and its young members have been receiving military training since 1993," Mr Thaksin is quoted as telling the Associated Press.

Malaysia has repeatedly said it does not support the separatist movement in southern Thailand.

Thai army denies protest claims
09 Nov 04 |  Asia-Pacific

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