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Thai officials deny any role in the deaths of Surachai’s aides

Jan 23. 2019
File photo: Surachai “Saedan” Danwattananusorn
File photo: Surachai “Saedan” Danwattananusorn
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THAI AUTHORITIES yesterday denied they played any role in the disappearance of two anti-monarchy activists who were found dead in the Mekong River, while the whereabouts of another dissident remain unknown. Senior officials have denied having any links with the deaths, saying they took place outside the Kingdom.

Former communist insurgent Surachai “Saedan” Danwattananusorn and his “aides” Chatchai “Phoochana” Bubphawan and Kraidej “Kasalong” Luelert were apparently living in self-imposed exile in Laos when they went missing in December. 

The aides’ bodies were found on December 26 and 27 in the Mekong River, which borders the two countries. 

Their hands and feet were bound, their faces beaten to a pulp and their organs removed and replaced with concrete before the bodies were flung into the river. 

Deputy police chief Pol General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said the two likely died outside Thailand and the Mekong current carried their bodies into Thai territory. However, he refused to confirm whether the bodies found were those of Surachai’s close aides. 

The 77-year-old dissident Surachai, who joined the red-shirt movement, was sentenced for lese majeste in 2013 and then granted amnesty, but had sought refuge in Laos after the May 2014 military coup.

Second Army Region Commander Lt-General Tharakorn Thammawinthorn, who oversees the Northeast and the Thai-Lao border region, said military intelligence indicated that Surachai and his associates had taken refuge in Laos several years ago, but the military had not been following their movement outside Thailand. 

The three dissidents did not return to Thailand, he said. “It is the duty of police and the Foreign Ministry to ask Laos to cooperate on extradition as they were fleeing from many charges,” the commander said. 

Asked whether Surachai was still alive, Tharakorn said he had no idea. “He is not in our territory and I don’t know if he has problems with anybody. If he was under our jurisdiction, we would have taken care of him,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Surachai’s wife Pranee Danwattananusorn told Prachatai news website that she believes her husband is already dead. 

“Initially, I was told there were three bodies floating on the Mekong River, but a village head untied one and let it float away,” she said. “I pray for his soul to rest in peace. Those who have committed this crime will have to pay the price.” 

New York-based Human Rights Watch yesterday called on the Lao government to investigate the disappearance of the political activists, who were last seen in Vientiane. The Lao government remained tight-lipped on the matter.

Many dissidents in exile are considered to be hardcore red-shirts, who also have anti-monarchy sentiments. Five of these dissidents, including Ittipon “DJ Sunho” Sukpaen and Wuttipong “Ko-Tee” Kotthammakhun, have reportedly gone missing. Their associates believe they were murdered in Laos, but there has been no official confirmation and the Lao authorities have refused to acknowledge they ever lived in the country.

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