Will the death of Private Wichien be just another statistic?
Mere mentioning of the name of the Fourth Development Battalion based in Krom Luang Narathiwat Ratchanakarin or Peeleng garrison will remind many civilians and officials in the deep South and observers of the violent situation in the region of the incident on Januarh 4, 2004 when Islamic extremists raided the garrison and took away 417 M16 assault rifles and other weapons most of which still remain unaccounted for.
Since that attack which marked the start of a new round of insurgency war, more than 4,300 people, most of them Muslims, have been killed. Several thousands more were wounded and many women were turned widow and children without parents.
The name of the garrison came into public attention albeit in a negative light in June when an army private, 25-year old Wichien Pueksom, died under suspicious circumstances.
The victim’s relatives were notified by officials of Narathiwat Ratchanakarin hospital on June 5 about the death of Pvt Wichien. The autopsy report shows that he died of sudden kidney failure and tissue fracture apparently after being pressed by hard objects.
The victim’s body was taken home for a funeral but his body would not be cremated until there is justice for the victim, said Mr Visit Pueksom, the victim’s elder brother.
Three days afterward on June 8, Mr Visit decided to take the case to the attention of the media. He suspected that his brother was badly beaten up. The victim reportedly suffered several broken teeth and fractured rib bones.
Wichien joined the service in April after he left the monkhood. He was then assigned to the Fourth Development Battalion in Narathiwat, said Mr Visit, adding that his brother ran away from the barrack to his home in Songkhla province because he could not stand the tough drills. Eventually he was arrested and escorted back to the barrack where he was believed to be beaten up, he added.
An informed source however said he was told by an official at the provincial hospital that the Private Wichien, before his death, said he was beaten up by 11 soldiers, including an officer with the rank of a lieutenant.
But while being treated at the hospital without the knowledge of the victim’s relatives, a relative claimed that he called the barrack and was told by an officer that the victim was fine inside the barrack. But when it was known that the victim was actually at the hospital, his relatives went there only to find him already dead on June 5.
Besides complaining to the Press, the victim’s relatives also lodged a complaint with Lt-Gen Udomchai Thammasaroratch, commander of the Fourth Army, who reportedl promised a full investigation.
Initial probe shows that 13 soldiers with the highest-ranking officer being a sub-lieutenant were implicated in Wichien’s death. Some of them have been detained but no further actions have been taken against the suspects.
How the investigation will end and whether any of the suspects will ever be punished remains to be seen? But for the victim’s families, they are not so sure that justice will be delivered.