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Fears of violence after Thai Muslim deaths -

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Fears of violence after Thai Muslim deaths

Reporter: Stephen McDonell

TONY JONES: Thailand's heavy-handed treatment of Muslim protesters has today sparked international

At least 78 Thai Muslims suffocated or had their necks broken when they were piled on top of one
another in the back of trucks after being arrested.

Another six were shot dead.

While Amnesty International claimed it as part of a disturbing pattern of excessive force by the
military against Muslims, Thailand's PM said the prisoners died because they'd been weakened by
fasting during Ramadan.

But, as Stephen McDonell reports, there are fears the latest killings will lead to an upsurge in
the violence in southern Thailand.

STEPHEN McDONELL: Thai Muslims today crowded outside an army camp in the south of the country.

They came to search for their missing loved ones, to grieve for the dead and for those who received
the worst news imaginable - to take home their relatives for burial.

These are the faces of 78 protesters who suffocated or had their necks broken after they were piled
on top of one another in the back of trucks.

They'd been arrested at a demonstration.

DR PORNTIP ROJANASUN, FORENSIC EXPERT: Seventy-eight people were dead on arrival at the military

Nearly 80 per cent of the 78 died of asphyxia.

Some of the living were told to lay on top of each other.

STEPHEN McDONELL: Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra initially praised the security forces for doing a
good job, breaking up the protest.

He said the high death toll was because of Muslim fasting during Ramadan and drug use among

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA, THAILAND PRIME MINISTER: They suffocated during transportation, it's not really
because of what someone is doing but because of suffocations during the transportation, because
they've been fast for the whole day - no drink - and they been under the sun for several hours and
they're tired.

STEPHEN McDONELL: Thai Muslims, who are concentrated in the south of the country, gathered outside
a police station on Monday to protest against the earlier arrest of six men accused of handing guns
to rebels.

When 1,000 police and army were sent to break up the protest, six people were killed in the

One thousand three hundred people were arrested and jammed into vehicles face down on top of one
another for six hours with their hands behind their backs.

Seventy-eight didn't make it.

have done great damage to Thai efforts to achieve reconciliation, to have a conciliatory approach
to Muslim populations in the south.

In a sense, the Thai Government's approach to the difficulties in the south since January has
alienated southerners, made the situation worse rather than better.

STEPHEN McDONELL: Amnesty international says this is part of a disturbing pattern of excessive
force against Muslims in the south of Thailand where 414 people have been killed this year.

Now, the killing of 78 people in custody could lead to even greater violence.

DR MICAEL J MONTESANO: The level of anger, I think justifiable anger among people who already have
grievances and discontent with the Thai state will just be very vastly exacerbated.

I think the level of alienation may be the level of violence that the Thai state will be
confronting in the deep south from here on in will be much greater.

STEPHEN McDONELL: The Thai Government has announced it will conduct an inquiry into the cause of
the deaths.

Stephen McDonell, Lateline.

(c) 2006 ABC