Factbox: Details of Thai probes into civilian deaths

(Reuters) - Leaked state documents show Thailand’s military played a larger role in the killing of civilians during political unrest in Bangkok this year than officials have acknowledged.

A preliminary state probe, seen by Reuters, concluded Thai special forces positioned on an elevated railway track fired into the grounds of a temple where several thousand protesters had taken refuge on May 19. Six people were killed there.

Investigations into another case on April 10 indicated the shot that killed Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto, who was covering a protest in Bangkok’s old quarter, probably came from the gun of a Thai soldier.

Below are the key findings of the two probes conducted by the Department of Special Investigation and seen by Reuters.

Officials stress the investigations are not complete.

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Wat Prathum Wanaram, close to the Ratchaprasong commercial district occupied by demonstrators for seven weeks, was designated a safe zone for civilians. Several thousand protesters sought refuge there after troops started the offensive to evict the demonstrators.

Thailand’s military denied for several months that troops were stationed on the elevated Skytrain rail tracks directly in front of the temple. The government said shadowy militants were to blame for the killings.

The key findings of the report are:

-- Six people in the temple compound were shot dead. The report gave no figures for the number of people shot and wounded.

-- Multiple witnesses heard gunfire coming from the overhead tracks and saw people in camouflage outfits pointing assault rifles at the temple.

-- One man said he saw gunmen on the Skytrain tracks firing into a medical tent and saw two people who had been shot dead.

-- One man who was hiding under a car in the temple grounds said he was shot at four or five times by men in military fatigues stationed on the tracks before he was helped to safety by a Buddhist monk.

-- Many people fled to the temple when gunshots were heard coming from a shopping area secured by troops. One man was seen falling to the floor and later died.

-- No civilian witnesses interviewed reported seeing gunmen inside the temple compound. One witness said he saw five or six unknown men on the road in front of the temple, dressed in black and carrying rifles. He said they shot and killed one of his co-workers and burned his body.

-- Autopsies revealed the six people killed at the temple were all killed by high velocity bullets. Bullets of the M855 type were found in the bodies of four of the victims. The type that killed the other two people was unknown. The autopsies showed the trajectory of three of the fatal shots came from above, or “top to bottom”, and two were classed as “bottom to top”. For two of the victims, no witnesses saw them killed.

-- Military personnel interviewed in the report said special forces troops were on the railtrack and were armed with M-16 assault rifles. They said they were equipped with M855 bullets.

-- Troops interviewed said they fired warning shots at walls and over the heads of people within the temple compound, and that they acted in line with the rules of engagement. They said their shots were fired around 6 p.m. Witnesses and video footage showed the fatal temple shootings took place around the same time.

-- One soldier said a gunmen was shooting at them from inside the compound and he returned fire. Another soldier said he was informed his seven-man team was fired at by armed men inside the temple compound.

-- One soldier said he spotted black-clad gunmen beneath the rail tracks and shot at them.

-- Troops on the Skytrain track provided cover fire for officers on the ground following a request for backup.

-- The report recommended further police investigation into the temple deaths. It concluded: “There is a reasonable amount of facts, evidence and witness accounts to believe that (three) deaths resulted from security officials’ actions on duty.”

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Muramoto, a 43-year-old Japanese cameraman working for Thomson Reuters in Tokyo, was filming clashes between red shirt demonstrators and troops near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument when he was killed by a high velocity bullet to the chest.

The Thai authorities have come under pressure from Japan to provide details about how Muramoto was killed and only recently acknowledged he may have been shot by security forces.

The key findings of the report are:

-- Police at the scene said a heated standoff with hundreds of protesters in darkness led to troops firing into the air followed by bursts of shooting and sporadic blasts. Chaos ensued. Many people were injured and sent to hospital.

-- A soldier, who was slightly wounded, said he was informed troops had come under fire from M-79 grenades and many were hurt by shrapnel. Senior officers held a meeting to plan a retreat and an explosive landed close to them, killing one soldier and the commanding officer. The soldier said retreating troops were attacked with grenades and by protesters with wooden staves and rocks. He said he had seen Muramoto filming that night, but did not specify a time.

-- A demonstrator saw Muramoto move away from the troops toward where protesters were stood, close to a school. He saw “a flash from a gun barrel of a soldier”, then watched Muramoto, who was among the demonstrators, fall after he was shot while filming the troops from afar. He said he did not know who killed him.

-- One man standing within a meter of Muramoto saw a soldier pointing a rifle in his direction. He turned around and saw the journalist fall backwards onto the pavement while holding a large camera. He carried Muramoto to a nearby rescue vehicle and said he did not know from where exactly the bullet that entered the victim’s chest was fired. However, it did not come from the direction of demonstrators.

-- Multiple witnesses saw Muramoto carried away by protesters and placed in a rescue truck. One said the clash ended soon after, when protesters called on troops to stop shooting, because people had been killed.

-- The report concluded: “There is a reasonable amount of facts and evidence to believe that the death of Hiro was due to an act of the security forces who said they were acting according to official duty.” (Compiled by Bangkok Newsroom; Editing by Andrew Marshall)