Police must get to bottom of Ramkhamheang violence

opinion December 18, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

The mystery that surrounds the deadly clashes between students and red-shirt protesters must be solved

Almost three weeks have passed since clashes between students and red-shirt demonstrators at Ramkhamheang University left four dead and some 60 injured. Yet the incident remains a mysterious chapter in the ongoing political crisis. 
Ramkhamheang students yesterday called for justice for the victims, demanding that Hua Mark police step up their investigations and threatening to petition National Police headquarters.
Red-shirt demonstrators also want a speedy investigation and report on the violence. Each side has given a different story of what happened on the night of November 30. These, along with the many media reports on the violence, have done little to clarify exactly what happened. The big questions remain unanswered: Who was responsible for the shootings? And did each side attack the other, or was there a “third hand” involved. 
Apart from their duty to investigate, police also have to take responsibility for failing to prevent the clashes. The first sign of trouble came the day before, with a report that red shirts had attacked students and destroyed an anti-government banner at the university. The following afternoon, a number of red-shirt demonstrators were beaten by students as they made their way to the Rajamangala Stadium rally. Onstage at the stadium, Jatuporn Prompan acknowledged the possibility of confrontations between students and red shirts. He said the students had a right to protest but also warned they could be hurt if they mobilised people to come to Rajamangala. 
The two sides were probably well aware prior to the clashes of the possibility of violence. Had the police paid attention to keeping order, the violence might have been avoided. But by the time they broke out, it was too late. One result was that Ramkhamheang students were left stranded without protection for 17 hours. The red shirts too were kept “trapped” inside Rajamangala Stadium for their own safety. Outside, the streets of Ramkhamheang were turned into a “war zone”, the air filled with the sound of gunfire.
Wutthisak Larpcharoensap, the university’s rector, said he was with thousands of students inside the university, but police refused to come to their aid as they said they were busy safeguarding the red shirts at Rajamangala Stadium. Finally, news came through that the students would be getting protection from the police. The rector also said he had spoken by telephone with red-shirt leader Jatuporn, who told him there was a “third hand” involved in the clash. Wutthisak insisted that whoever was involved, the police had to demonstrate they could keep public order. 
When the terror at Ramkhamheang subsided, the police were once again criticised for failing to help the students. Thousands of students stayed overnight in the university compound, escorted to safety the next day by military troops. Police claimed they had mobilised officers but couldn’t get into the area, so the men stood by and waited for the military.
The duty of police is to piece together the jigsaw puzzle to clear up the mystery and get a full picture of what happened on November 30. They must also explain their role, and actions or lack of, in this case. The Ramkhamheang violence must not be swept under the carpet to become yet another unexplained chapter in modern Thai politics. More importantly, the police must bring justice for all its victims – the dead and injured and their family members.