BANGKOK (Reuters) - Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto may have been shot by Thai security forces when he was killed during a street protest in April, state investigators said on Tuesday, calling for a new probe into his death.
The statement is the first by Thai investigators to acknowledge that a bullet fired by security forces may have killed the 43-year-old journalist.
“Since there was possible involvement by government officers, we have to start from square one by letting police investigate further,” Tharit Pengdith, director general of the Department of Special Investigation, told a news conference.
Muramoto, a Japanese national based in Tokyo with Thomson Reuters, was killed by a high-velocity bullet wound to the chest while covering clashes in Bangkok between anti-government protesters and Thai troops on April 10.
“I hope the investigation can be completed swiftly so that all who care deeply about Hiro Muramoto’s death can have clarity about what precisely happened, David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters, said in a statement.
“His family and colleagues need to know who was involved and what the circumstances were that led to this tragedy.”
Twenty-five people, mostly protesters, were killed on April 10 and hundreds wounded. Television footage showed Thai troops opening fire on protesters, while soldiers came under attack from grenades and black-clad gunmen moved among the demonstrators.
The DSI said Muramoto was among six people whose deaths will be further investigated because it was unclear if he was shot by security forces, protesters or unidentified “armed militants.”
The DSI has yet to release findings from its investigation into Muramoto and others killed on April 10 including the source of gunfire, despite intense diplomatic pressure from Japan. It previously said the probe lacked conclusive witness accounts.
“We have been asking the Thai government at all levels, including in meetings between our foreign ministers and through our embassy, to find out the truth,” a Japanese foreign ministry official said. “We will continue to call for the truth into what happened with Mr. Muramoto.”
A Thai newspaper reported in July that four witnesses told police Muramoto was killed by gunfire from troops, but the DSI denied the report, saying it did not have reliable witnesses to the shooting.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in July that Thailand’s government had failed to properly investigate the deaths of Muramoto and Italian freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi who was shot dead on May 19 as troops moved in on protesters in Bangkok’s commercial district.
The DSI said on Tuesday that it had evidence that 12 people including seven soldiers were killed by supporters of an anti-government “red shirt” protest movement demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call fresh elections.
A senior police official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue told Reuters on Tuesday that Muramoto was likely caught in a crossfire and there was a “high possibility” that he was shot by the security forces although the case remained inconclusive.
“Given the line of fire and eyewitness accounts, there is a high possibility but this is in no way conclusive which is why we need further investigation,” the official said.
Editing by Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall