FAMILY BLAMES INJURIES FROM PUNISHMENT AT SCHOOL; ARMY VOWS TO CONDUCT TRANSPARENT INVESTIGATION
TWO SENIOR military officers have been transferred out of the Thai Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School (AFAPS) in the wake of a scandal surrounding the death of a teenage cadet.
Supreme Commander General Thanchaiyan Srisuwan yesterday ordered the transfers of Colonel Chatchai Duangrat and Commander Noppasit Pienchob, who both oversaw student affairs at the AFAPS, where Phakhapong “Meay” Tanyakan, 18, died on October 17. Phakhapong’s family suspects he died from injuries sustained in a punishment he was given at the school and that he did not die from natural causes.
Although the order issued by Thanchaiyan did not specify the exact cause of the transfer, it is clear the move is related to the incident.
Thanchaiyan has already received a report on the result of the investigation by AFAPS into the teenager’s death. “That investigation is separate from the probe the Supreme Commander has ordered,” Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters spokesman Lt General Natapol Boon-ngarm said yesterday.
On November 23, Thanchaiyan appointed the headquarters’ deputy chief-of-staff ACM Chawarat Marungruang to chair the committee investigating Phakhapong’s case.
“We will definitely find out the truth and ensure justice to all sides,” Defence Ministry spokesman Lt General Kongcheep Tantravanich said yesterday. “But please give the committee time.”
He said the committee would have to wait for the results of medical tests, which could take about seven days.
Phakhapong’s family maintains he almost died in August after he was punished by senior students at AFAPS. They say there are grounds to suspect foul play in his death.
Kongcheep said Thanchaiyan had already submitted the results of the AFAPS investigation to Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan.
“AFAPS has looked into two incidents. The first incident is about the punishment Phakhapong’s seniors ordered in August. The second one is about his death on October 17,” Kongcheep said.
He said AFAPS had found that senior students had ordered excessive punishment against Phakha-pong in August and the school had penalised those students. “Phakhapong’s family has decided not to take legal action against those senior students,” Kongcheep said.
AFAPS reported that recordings from CCTV on October 17, and testimony from Phakhapong’s friends showed no one had hurt Phakhapong that day.
Phakhapong’s elder sister Supicha Tanyakan, meanwhile, said on Facebook that the Central Institute of Forensic Science had now accepted parts of Phakhapong’s organs for examination. These were returned to the family by the military-owned Phramongkutklao Hospital on Thursday.
Supicha said any doubts over Phakhapong’s death should be directed at specific people at AFAPS, not the school itself. Prawit, meanwhile, yesterday said he was sorry if his interviews about Phakhapong’s case had upset his family and vowed to ensure a transparent investigation.
Srisuwan Janya, who chairs the Thai Constitution Protection Organisation Association, questioned why AFAPS allowed senior cadets to punish juniors.
“These cadets are still not mature enough,” he said. Srisuwan also said there were other reports of cadet deaths at AFAPS over the past three to four years.
He called on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate alleged human rights violations at the school. NHRC deputy secretary-general Sopol Chingchit accepted the petition.
Earlier this week, the Cross Culture Foundation also released a statement on Phakhapong’s case, calling for a transparent investigation. It also urged the Armed Forces to abolish inhumane and harmful punishment of soldiers, to set up a mechanism for lower-ranked soldiers to complain, and to create regulations to meet with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which has been suspended by the government for more than five years.