Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thailand: Bodies found at river, Who kill them?

SAME MAN?: A restaurant owner claims the man on the right in a red shirt is security guard Chaiyaporn Kantang, 29, pictured left in an official ID photo. Police investigating the murder of Chaiyaporn and another security guard during the Songkran riots say neither man had an interest in politics.

Questions still remain over bodies found in Chao Phraya River


(Bangkok Post) No one denies the deaths were brutal. Their heads and faces bore the marks of savage beatings. Their mouths were gagged with white cloth and their hands were bound tightly behind their backs with blue nylon rope.

Nattapong Pongdee, 23, from Udon Thani, and Chaiyaporn Kantang, 29, from Phrae, both worked as security guards for Krung Thai General Business Services in Lat Phrao. Eleven days ago their bodies were dragged from the Chao Phraya River. Since then their mysterious deaths have become part of the political debate over what really happened during the ``red revolt'' over Songkran and what transpired on Bangkok's streets under a state of emergency decree.

Were they red shirts killed by the military or other forces, as claimed by the opposition, or were they simply victims of a vicious criminal act that happened to take place at the same time as the security crackdown?

During the parliamentary debate last week on the Songkran unrest, opposition Puea Thai party MP for Phrae, Worawat Ua-apinyakul, tried to consolidate previous claims that the two were red shirt supporters who faced a grisly end as a result of the military crackdown. He produced pictures to support his claim, one of which he said showed Chaiyaporn in a red shirt.

Police Lt Col Virat Petcharat, who is heading the investigations into the murders, conceded that the case is difficult to handle as politics has affected police work.

He said police planned to interview the politicians who had made claims that the killings were linked to the riots, but they had to reschedule their plan due to the ongoing political unrest. So far, the police have not found any evidence to link the case to a political motive. The colonel said police had interrogated the dead men's wives and colleagues.

``They said if the two were involved in politics, they would have mentioned this to them somehow,'' he said.

On April 15, Pol Lt Col Virat was informed by radio that there was a body floating in the Chao Phraya River close to Phra Pin Klao Bridge. His team rushed to the scene and found Chaiyaporn's body, clad in a grey-coloured T-shirt T-shirt and trousers, floating near the Phra Arthit pier. His hands were bound with a blue nylon rope and his mouth gagged.

At around 11am, they found another body in the river. It was Nattapong's, in a black T-shirt which had an image of a rescuer carrying a girl's body.

Nattapong's hands were bound with the same type of rope as Chaiyaporn's and his mouth was also gagged.

The doctors who joined the police team concluded from initial examinations of the bodies at the scene that the two had suffered head and facial injuries and had drowned, meaning that they were both still alive when they were thrown in the river.

The bodies were then sent to Siriraj Hospital for autopsies. The autopsy reports have not yet been submitted to police, Lt Col Virat said, adding that it may take a month for the reports to be completed.

The bodies of both men were cremated last week in their home provinces.

The police investigating team was earlier able to interview the men's colleagues and wives. In their report, Nattapong's wife _ Suwanna _ is quoted as saying that on April 13 she was with her her husband who was drinking alcohol with Chaiyaporn at his house near the men's workplace. At around 11pm Nattapong left to drive his wife home. Nattapong then went back and continued drinking until 2am the next morning, one of his workmates who was also at Chaiyaporn's house told police.

The last friends saw of the two men is when they rode off on an orange Honda Wave motorcycle.

``Now, we know where they were and what they did before they died, but we don't know what happened afterwards until we found their bodies,'' said the police colonel. ``From the circumstances, they were tortured and murdered. That is the main clue that we have so far to help lead us to establish a charge.''

Puea Thai party spokesman Prompong Nopparit believes that the deaths are related to the pair's participation in red-shirt gatherings. He cited Chaiyaporn's brother's account that the two went to join the red shirts on April 12 to serve as security guards for the protesters.

According to some residents in the Lat Phrao 106 community, near the company where the two men worked, the pair did have an interest in politics.

The owner of a restaurant where they often had lunch said Chaiyaporn was keen on politics, particularly the ideas of the red-shirts. During the last few months, after exchanging ideas with some red-shirt people at the restaurant, he eventually undertook security guard work for red shirts from the community.

The restaurant owner provided pictures to the Bangkok Post Sunday which he said showed Chaiyaporn wearing a red shirt at one of their recent gatherings. Some pictures were taken as recently as April 8, he said.

``We don't know why they died. But don't rush to ignore the fact that they were involved in politics. What is needed is the truth,'' said the restaurant owner.

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