Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Thailand’s military Wednesday to transfer to police custody a militiaman arrested in connection with a pair of killings in the insurgency-hit Deep South, as it questioned whether the suspect would face justice under martial law.
Earlier this week, Thai military and police officials announced that security forces had captured militia member Abdul Hakeem Darase in Muang, a district of southern Yala province, on Friday. The officials said Abdul Hakeem provided information that led to the capture of another suspect, civilian Saimawee Waekaloh.
Abdul Hakeem was “allegedly responsible for a long list of murders of ethnic Malay Muslim men and women accused of involvement with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist movement,” Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher in HRW’s Asia division, wrote on Wednesday.
BRN is the largest and most powerful of insurgent groups in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking region. The Deep South borders Malaysia and encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces as well as four districts in Songkhla province. The region has seen nearly 7,000 people die in violence since the decades-old insurgency flared up in early 2004.
Abdul Hakeem’s arrest raised hopes that the Thai government was “finally getting serious about countless abuses carried out by its security services in Thailand’s restive southern border provinces,” Sunai said.
But he also questioned the military’s decision to hold Abdul Hakeem, citing martial law, to interrogate him about weapons that were allegedly seized from him instead of turning him over to the police.
“As a result, the police cannot press charges against him. And so far, no criminal investigation into any murder cases has begun,” Sunai wrote.
He noted that BRN rebels had cited the alleged abuses committed by Abdul Hakeem “as a justification for reprisals.”
The militiaman had not acted alone, but the government had yet to prosecute a single member of the security forces for unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture or other acts committed against Malay Muslims in the Deep South, Sunai wrote.
“The government should take an important step to break this cycle of violence by ordering the military to transfer Hakeem to police custody for a transparent and impartial criminal investigation and to be prosecuted as the evidence warrants it. There can be no excuses,” Sunai said.
Suspected in killings
Abdul Hakeem is blamed for attacks on May 9 and 22 that led to two deaths, according to Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the military’s internal security operations command in the region (ISOC-4), and Col. Thiraphot Yindee, commander of the police station in Bannang Sata, another district of Yala where Abdul Hakeem served as a village defense volunteer or militiaman.
Thiraphot said Abdul Hakeem had not been charged following his arrest.
“No allegations have been filed as he also faces charges related to weapons of war. He was arrested under martial law,” Thiraphot told BenarNews. “If the allegations are confirmed in the next two to three days when martial law is due to expire, charges will be pressed accordingly.”
Thirapot and the ISOC official spoke to BenarNews on Monday, before Human Rights Watch came out with its statement.
The officials said Abdul Hakeem was transferred to a military unit in Yala for questioning while Saimawee was being detained at the main interrogation center at an army camp in Pattani. No details have been released about alleged crimes committed by Saimawee.
Security forces seized an M-16 and other weapons along with ammunition when they took Abdul Hakeem into custody, according to officials.
The military and police allege that Abdul Hakeem was involved in the May 9 shooting of village headman Arsae Niseng, who was traveling in a car with his wife and two daughters, in front of Ban Cho school in Yala. The headman’s wife was killed and the others injured.
Nearly two weeks later, Sama-ae Sama, 55, vice chairman of the Tha Thong sub-district administration, was shot and killed on May 22 in Yala.
“After the incident, the ISOC Region 4 commander region ordered that witnesses be questioned and security cameras be checked. There were many witnesses who gave us useful information,” Pramote told BenarNews, referring to the earlier incident.
“Actually, the person who knows what happened is the village headman. The last time we went to visit, the children were recovering from injuries,” Pramote said.