Many readers will recall the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae and the failure of any serious investigation. There has been no serious investigation because there’s a cover-up.
In this context of an official cover-up and the efforts to ensure impunity for the soldiers and their officers who were involved, a recent report in the Bangkok Post deserves attention. It is sad and revealing. Most of all, it is a story of how the people are repressed and exploited.
Bits and pieces from the report can be quoted here, but do read it and weep for these people and for Thailand:
‘They pointed a gun at me,” Lana whispers into my ear.
She means military, police and officials and she’s talking both of an events in the past and a pattern of intimidation and exploitation.
In 2005, the gun was pointed at her by “them” to prevent her and other Lahu accessing their farmland in Ban Kong Phak Ping village in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district, just a few kilometres from the Thai-Myanmar border. The altercation followed their discovery of young plants placed on the land as part of the authorities’ forestation project, which the Lahu were unaware of.
Violence is imprinted in her memory. Some local Lahu were reportedly beaten up by officials as suspected drug dealers.
Amid the intense drug suppression [Thaksin’s time], Lana was charged with resisting an operation to arrest two Lahu drug suspects in her village. Their house was raided but no drugs were discovered. The officials refused to back down despite the lack of evidence. They demanded Lana, who was widely respected in the local community, assist in the arrest.
After she refused to collaborate, she was arrested then imprisoned for nine months.
“We’ve fought for our rights for so long until we’re bored to fight and let it be.”
This conversation took place at a “gathering” on the spot where Lahu rights advocate Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, was killed on the morning of March 17….
Many locals do not believe the Lahu youth [Chaiyapoom] was linked to drugs. But people in his village are watching the case from distance. It’s also not an issue that they speak about openly in their community despite the loss.
Chaiyaphum’s death heightens the fear the Lahu community have lived with after long years of discrimination….
Checkpoints [for drugs] became a common encounter during my daily drive with another journalist tracing the shadow of Chaiyaphum in Chiang Mai’s border towns. We passed the checkpoints easily.
But when it’s Saroj’s [a local’s] turn, he usually has to undergo a urine test despite this being a routine commute for him.
His 17-year-old nephew says he has been slapped in the face by a soldier. On another occasion, he was beaten and stamped on by military personnel although no drugs were found on him.
Four other Lahu I interviewed told me similar stories. They have all experienced violence themselves or have friends or family who have faced official violence.
“Life is already difficult for ethnic people who don’t have status here. They have no choice but to submit to fate. Would they [the military] do the same to suspects if they are not ethnic?” Saroj asks.
Remarkably, the authorities have poured mony into the area since Chaiyapoom was murdered. It might be hush money, it might be compensation, it might be an admission of guilt.
Aid has flooded into Chaiyaphum’s village. The state and military have dispatched resources to remedy the community’s loss. A new toilet was installed in mother’s house.
Trucks were seen delivering construction materials to the village to build facilities. Soon they will get water tanks and electricity lines. New social development projects will be slated for the village soon.
Local authorities visit the community to survey their problems and requirements. The chief of Chiang Dao district recently visited the village — some locals say he is the first chief to visit their community in a decade.
“This village has been neglected for so long. When the incident [Chaiyaphum’s killing] took place, we allocated a budget to assist the villagers because we don’t want them to be left behind,” says Chiang Dao district chief Sarawut Worapong.
…[T]he overwhelming military presence in the community has made some Lahu feel insecure, especially those close to Chaiyaphum or those who have experienced violence.
They claimed to have been photographed by military officials. Officials also took pictures of houses, claiming it was part of a survey to allocate aid.
A diagram of the drug network was shown to some community members which contained the names of their friends, in order to sow discord among the community.
Villagers are still seeking the truth behind Chaiyaphum’s death.
Atthachak Sattayanurak, an academic at Chiang Mai University, says the violence is a part of the authoritarianism that puts marginalised people vulnerable to abuse of power.
Especially when Thailand’s political environment is not conducive to democracy, vulnerable people like ethnic minorities are at the mercy of the state.
As she [Lana] keeps a faint smile when telling me her life story, I ask why she maintains such an expression.
“It’s just the way I am dealing with the problem. Actually, I’m scared.”