Southern Thailand: UN, Human Rights Watch Deplore Hospital Seizure by Rebels

BenarNews Staff
2016.03.16
Bangkok
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160316-TH-insurgent-hospital-620.jpg An image from a closed-circuit TV camera captures suspected rebels as they move through a parking lot at Cho-irong Hospital during an attack in the southern Thai province of Narathiwat, March 13, 2016.
Cho-irong Hospital

Rebels in southern Thailand violated international law by taking over a hospital while attacking a military installation in Narathiwat province this week, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch said.

The U.N. Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia (OCHCR) issued a statement Wednesday deploring the actions of between 10 and 50 rebels who reportedly seized the Cho-irong Hospital in Narathiwat for about 30 minutes on Sunday, while patients and medical staff were inside.

The insurgents endangered the lives of civilians and medical workers by using the building to stage an assault on nearby Army Ranger Base Camp 4816, Bangkok-based U.N. officials said.

“This incident is a flagrant breach of international law. We are appalled that a public hospital was used in such a manner, and that the lives of hospital staff and other civilians were put at risk,” said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative for OHCHR.

“Hospitals, medical units and medical personnel are protected under international humanitarian law, and they should not be targeted or used for military purposes at any time,” the office said.

Thai security forces surrounded the building while the rebels were inside the hospital, BenarNews reported Monday. Thai authorities said soldiers withheld fire even though insurgents were shooting at them from the hospital. The rebels eventually fled into nearby woods.

According to the regional branch of Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), 40 to 50 insurgents were involved in the hospital incident.

Health workers in harm’s way

“The insurgents’ seizure of a hospital in southern Thailand is far more damaging than just the harm done to the facility’s equipment,” Brad Adams, Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Putting hospitals at risk of attack threatens the lives of patients, doctors and medical workers throughout southern Thailand. The insurgents should publicly commit to ending attacks on medical facilities immediately.”

Before retreating, the insurgents tied up a pregnant nurse and destroyed hospital computers, telephones and other equipment, HRW said, adding that the incident violated “the laws of war.”

“Individuals who order or deliberately carry out an attack on a hospital are responsible for war crimes,” HRW said.

“Claims by insurgents that attacks on civilians are lawful because the targets are part of the Thai Buddhist state or because Islamic law as they interpret it permits such attacks have no legal justification.”

Both HRW and the U.N. Human Rights Office cited figures from Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, which reported that at least 112 public health volunteers and hospital staff had been killed or injured, and 28 community health centers burned down or bombed during the past 12 years in Thailand’s insurgency-wracked Deep South.

‘If I shouted, I would have been killed’

Orawan Namkhan, the pregnant nurse who was bound during Sunday’s incident, said she saw 10 rebels storm into the hospital as they tried to hide from Thai forces.

“They tied my hands in the back. Luckily I was quiet, so I was safe. If I shouted, I would have been killed,” the eyewitness told reporters.

No one was killed or injured during the incident, but one defense volunteer and 11 other people were injured in attacks carried out by southern insurgents on Sunday and Monday.

The latest attacks unfolded around the 56th anniversary of the founding of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – the largest of the armed separatist groups in the predominantly Muslim, Malay-speaking Deep South.

The attacks brought to 20 the number of people killed in related violence in the region since Thai security forces raided a rebel hideout in Pattani province on Feb. 10.

They also took place against the backdrop of ongoing efforts by the Thai junta to persuade rebel groups and factions to open formal peace talks for the first time since 2013. Since 2004, more than 6,000 people have died in the conflict.

On Wednesday, ISOC’s Region 4 command announced the arrest of a man suspected of taking part in Sunday’s takeover of the hospital by rebels.

“He has been under interrogation at Ingkayuth Borihan Fort in Pattani [province] to see whether he was involved in the shootout,” ISOC 4 spokesman Col. Yuthanam Petchmuang told reporters.

Meanwhile in Narathiwat, security forces on Wednesday held five local men for questioning after launching a mission in Ra-ngae district to search for suspected insurgents.

Some rebels escaped into the forest, but the authorities recovered gas tanks and other bomb-making materials, said 45th Paramilitary Regiment Commander Col. Rungroj Anandhato.

Nasueroh in Pattani, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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