Thai Rescuers Executed Rebels, Witnesses Say; 'We shot
faster' in firefight, official reports
By Seth Mydans, New York Times Service,
Thursday 27 January 2000
A mood of triumph in Thailand after the quick, clean end of a hostage
standoff at a hospital was soured Wednesday by questions over whether
some of the 10 Burmese gunmen had been executed after surrendering to
Local newspapers published accounts from witnesses saying that some of
the hostage-takers had been shot in the head Tuesday after being told to
strip off their clothes. One paper published a photograph of four bodies
in their underwear, all of whom appeared to have been shot in the head.
The concerns were boosted by the fact that none of the hundreds of
patients and medical workers who had been held hostage for 22 hours in
the town of Ratchaburi had been hit by gunfire, suggesting the absence
of any intense firefight.
Officials strongly denied that any of the men had been executed.
"A well-trained commando normally will shoot to kill, especially with a
head shot, because if hostage-takers with dangerous weapons are not
killed immediately they could still harm hostages," said an army
spokesman, Lieutenant General Sanan Kajornklam. "No commando will
target the body, because terrorists could be wearing bulletproof
Military officials said nine of the hostage-takers were killed
immediately within the main hospital building. They said the 10th
attempted to escape but was gunned down on the hospital grounds shortly
The Thai military, meanwhile, said it had resumed shelling the hilltop
base of the ethnic Karen rebel band, led by twin 12-year-old boys, that
staged the raid from across the border with Burma.
Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, asked by reporters why not one of the
hostage-takers survived, said: "The reason is easy. We shot faster than
He added: "If some Thai officials had died in this operation, the
questions would change to, 'Why did we send our officials to die?"'
The Thai police have faced criticism in the past for summarily executing
people they arrest as criminals. This is not the first time that there
were no survivors in a confrontation with security forces.
When the 10 bodies were displayed to reporters Tuesday, all were wrapped
in white sheets knotted around the neck so that they looked like
faceless dolls. Bloodstains suggested that at least some had been shot
in the head.
Newspapers reported Wednesday that all 10 were then buried without
According to newspaper accounts, the dawn attack on the poorly organized
gunmen at the Ratchaburi Provincial Hospital, 120 kilometers (75 miles)
west of Bangkok, had been well prepared.
As many as 40 commandos infiltrated the hospital during the night
dressed as patients or medical workers. They hid weapons in a kitchen
and moved quietly among the hostages, telling them to turn off their
lights and lie on the floor. Sharpshooters and observers with two-way
radios took up positions on the perimeter. Reporters were moved away
from the scene with the ruse of a news briefing.
At about 5:30 A.M., two percussion grenades at one corner of the
compound created a diversion and signaled the start of the raid.
"Some of the hostages cried," according to an unidentified woman
quoted in the Bangkok Post. "The rebels did not return fire. I thought
they would just arrest the rebels because they had surrendered."
The newspaper quoted an unnamed hospital official who said she looked
out from a hiding place and saw the police holding rebels at gunpoint.
"They were shot in the head after they had been told to undress and
kneel down," she said.
The Nation, another English-language daily newspaper, quoted a hostage
named Decha Yoowong, 32, as saying he thought some of the gunmen might
As they crouched together, he said, "the hostages asked them not to put
up any resistance, with some of them agreeing to that." The gunmen then
walked into a hallway, and it appeared that they were preparing to give
"The commandos sprayed bullets into the room, shattering all the
windowpanes," he said. "None of the hostages were hurt. None of us saw
any of the terrorists being shot because it was still dark." Like
similar reports in other newspapers, however, these accounts were
displayed modestly on inside pages.
Interior Minister Sanan Kajornprasart, commenting on the gunmen's death,
said, "They all deserved it, since they've brought much trauma and
suffering to Thai people."