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Prime Minister of Thailand is accused of crimes against humanity


Rungroj Yongrit/EPA

The Thai Prime Minister has been accused of crimes against humanity in a complaint lodged at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The 128-page dossier, submitted in the name of the anti-Government Red Shirt movement, accuses Abhisit Vejjajiva of being criminally liable for the deaths of 92 people last year during efforts by the security forces to quell two months of demonstrations that paralysed the centre of Bangkok.

The complaint, lodged by a lawyer for Mr Abhisit’s political enemy, the exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, includes statements by unidentified witnesses, video footage, and photographs of those killed, including a Japanese and an Italian journalist.

It also contains a report by a US military expert concluding that the Royal Thai Army used snipers to shoot unarmed demonstrators from hidden positions with automatic rifles.

The ICC receives dozens of complaints every year, and the fact that one has been lodged does not necessarily mean that it will come to court, or even be formally investigated. But it adds to the pressure on Mr Abhisit who, during two years in office, has never quelled questions about his political legitimacy.

It also highlights the continuing role in Thai politics of Thaksin, the former billionaire who was deposed as Prime Minister in a military coup in 2006. Although the complaint to the ICC is in the name of the Red Shirt organisation, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, it has been prepared by Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian lawyer who also acts for Thaksin.

Since being ousted, Thaksin, who has been sentenced by a Thai court to five years in jail for corruption, has spent most of his time in exile. Despite this, he has huge support in Thailand, particularly among the rural working class, and remains a thorn in the side of Mr Abhisit’s Government.

Anger against the Government has been simmering since Mr Abhisit became Prime Minister, but last March unprecedented demonstrations began in two areas of central Bangkok.

Red-shirted protesters erected stages, sound systems and makeshift camps that sealed off the heart of the capital’s shopping district, and closed down or disrupted some of its most expensive hotels and shopping malls.

Ninety-two people died as the Thai Army moved in on the two sites. The Government insists that it was dispersing a violent and illegal assembly, and has blamed many of the deaths on mysterious “men in black” — allegedly rogue soldiers acting in support of the Red Shirts.

But the complaint to the ICC claims that the soldiers shot live rounds directly at the crowd, deployed snipers and gave the demonstrators no way to disperse. It also asserts that soldiers posing as demonstrators burnt down buildings to smear the Red Shirt movement, and that the truth was covered up in subsequent investigations.

“They did not comport with accepted standards of crowd management or with the Thai Royal Army’s own stated rules of engagement, and they were criminal in nature,” said Joe Witty, a former Green Beret and member of the Los Angeles Police Department, hired to analyse footage of the break-up of the demonstrations.

“They were designed to kill innocent civilians, without provocation or justification, in order to suppress the Red Shirt demonstrations.”

Thailand has never joined the ICC and there is doubt whether the events in Bangkok last year fall within its jurisdiction. But Britain is a member, and Mr Abhisit, who studied at Eton and Oxford, was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. If he has not renounced his British citizenship, it could bring him under the ICC’s jurisdiction.

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