BANGKOK Thailand's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has concluded that Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto, who was killed during political protests last year, was not shot by security forces, the head of the DSI said Sunday.
That conclusion contradicts a preliminary finding in a DSI report leaked to Reuters in December, which indicated the bullet that killed the Japanese journalist on April 10 came from the direction of troops.
DSI Director-General Tharit Pengdith said the bullet came from an AK-47, which did not match weapons used by soldiers in the street in Bangkok that day.
"Now we know for sure the bullet that killed him was a Russian-made AK-47, which we do not have for military use," Tharit told Reuters, adding there would be a news conference on Monday to outline the findings.
Muramoto, 43, was based in Tokyo and had come to Bangkok to help cover anti-government "red shirt" protests that lasted from March to mid-May last year. He was among 91 civilians and members of the security forces killed during the unrest.
The Bangkok Post Sunday reported "claims that the army chief of staff paid the DSI head a visit to complain about an initial department finding" that blamed soldiers for the journalist's death.
"The DSI is likely to face questions about why it changed its stance," it said. It added that Tharit had denied meeting the army chief of staff.
The daily also quoted an unnamed army source as saying the army had imported about 20,000 AK-47 rifles into the country two decades ago. "About 19,000 of them had been distributed for use at military camps nationwide, while the rest were kept at the army's weapon storage site," it said.
Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd backed the latest DSI finding and said troops deployed in Bangkok on April 10 were armed with U.S.-made M-16 and Israeli-made Tavor rifles.
He denied that the army had sent officers to negotiate with DSI investigators, seen as the Thai equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, to change its findings.
"We never have any thought of intervening in the (judicial) system," Sansern told Reuters.
The "red shirt" anti-government protest group, however, said investigators seemed to be relying on fabricated testimony and were trying to divert responsibility from security forces to so-called black-clad gunmen, often seen during the protests last year.
The identity and allegiance of the mysterious gunmen dressed in black had never been established.
Thida Tojirakarn, acting chairwoman of the red shirt group, said investigators should focus on the evidence showing that the bullets that were fired at red shirts and Muramoto came from the army side.
"If it was the black-clad men who killed the cameraman, the army would have to give an answer to our question of why they allowed this mysterious group of people to fire bullets from the army side," Thida said.
(Editing by Alan Raybould and Yoko Nishikawa)