Human Rights Watch urged Laotian authorities Wednesday to probe the disappearances of three activists in exile, after police in Thailand confirmed that two bodies found along the Mekong River belonged to associates of a well-known Thai anti-monarchist, Surachai Danwattananusorn.
The bodies of the two anti-government activists were found on Dec. 27 and 29 at different locations along the river which divides the two nations, the police commander in Thailand’s northeastern Nakhon Phanom province told BenarNews. He said DNA tests had identified them as Chatcharn Buppawan, 56, and Kraidej Luelert, 46, both associates of Surachai, a former Thai communist leader.
“The Lao government seems intent on sweeping the abduction and gruesome murder of Thai activists under the rug,” Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement. “Lao authorities need to credibly investigate and prosecute this heinous case, which has raised alarms for Thai activists in exile in Laos.”
Meanwhile, the wife of Surachai, 78, told BenarNews she believed her husband was also killed but his corpse was destroyed. She cited local media reports that a third corpse resembling her husband was discovered on Dec. 28.
“I thought the body found in Tha Champa village cluster (in Tha Uthane district) is my husband because the two bodies were already identified as his followers,” the wife, Pranee Danwattananusorn, said in a phone interview.
“Reports say three bodies were found and one of them had a crooked leg joint,” she said, adding that her husband’s legs were uneven because of an accident. “The third corpse may have been destroyed.”
She said she was desperate to hear news about her husband.
“He has been unusually quiet for 41 days, hope is running out,” she told Benar. “There have been no articles, no news and no voices from him – his friends in the U.S. and France have not heard from him either.”
Surachai, a leader of the Communist Party of Thailand during the 1980s, became active against the military’s interference in politics. He fled to Laos in 2014, when army Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha led a coup that toppled the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Surachai’s wife said.
The former communist leader was accompanied to Laos then by two followers, Chatcharn Buppawan (alias Comrade Phu Chana) and Kraidej Luelert (alias Comrade Kasalong), she said.
Pranee said she had traveled to Laos after Surachai fled but was not able to find her husband.
In Nakhon Phanom, the provincial police chief said tests on DNA samples taken from the two bodies had confirmed a familial match between Chatcharn Buppawan, Kraidej Luelert and their fathers.
“A DNA test result matched the father and Chatcharn Buppawan, who was found in That Panom district. Another result matched the father and Kraidej Luelert, who was found in Maung district,” police Maj. Gen. Thanachart Rodklongton told BenarNews on Wednesday.
Krisada Boonramee, a village headman in the province’s Tha Uthane district, said only two bodies had been recovered. He explained that the body seen on Dec. 28 was Kraidej’s, which was recovered a day later after it drifted from the river bank.
Meanwhile, a senior army officer said Thai officials had no knowledge about the men.
“They largely maneuvered in Laos as far as we knew from news reports. We never sent officers to follow them there in Laos because it is not our jurisdiction,” Lt. Gen. Tharakorn Thummawintorn, the commander of the northeastern region army, told reporters on Wednesday.
“Whether Surachai is still alive or not, I cannot tell. If they were in Thailand, I could certainly provide them with safety,” Tharakorn said.
Bodies disemboweled, filled with concrete
In its website posting calling for the investigation, Human Rights Watch said Thai police had reported that “the bodies’ hands and feet were bound and their faces smashed beyond recognition. They also both had been disemboweled and stuffed with concrete.”
The Lao government has not conducted serious investigations into previous disappearances of Thai anti-monarchists living in Vientiane, including Itthipol Sukpaen, missing since June 2016, and Wuthipong Kachathamakul, missing since July 2017, the global rights watchdog group said.
Rights groups allege that Laos and Thailand have poor records in investigating disappearances.
Laos failed to investigate the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a progressive rural development activist who was seen on closed-circuit TV being abducted from a street in Laos’ capital Vientiane in December 2012.
Thailand acquitted alleged abductors of Karen land rights activist Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (alias Billy), who was last seen on April 17, 2014, near Kaeng Krachan National Park in Petch Buri province.
In 2015, a Thai supreme court acquitted police officers who were charged with abducting Somchai Neelapaijit, a lawyer who represented Deep South insurgents, from a Bangkok street in 2004.
According to an article published Wednesday in the Bangkok Post that focused on the disappearances of Surachai and other Thai dissidents, authorities in junta-ruled Thailand “deny any involvement in any of the disappearances, and note they have tried legal channels to have the suspects extradited.”