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Journalists Targets of Violence as Troops Attempted to Cover Up Rampage With AM-Thailand

May 28, 1992

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Journalists in Thailand found themselves targets of military violence while attempting to cover the slaughter of unarmed, pro-democracy protestors last week.

Journalists were shot, beaten and arrested as soldiers attempted to suppress the release of photographs, television footage and witness accounts of the three-day military rampage in the streets of Bangkok.

The assaults against the press corps in Thailand, regarded as a relative haven for press freedom in Asia, injured at least 31 Thais from news organizations, the Reporters’ Association of Thailand said Wednesday.

The association said at least three Thai journalists were shot, and five others seriously wounded.

Foreign journalists were targeted but none are known to have been killed. A bullet grazed the head of Tim Deagle, a British television cameraman on assignment for NBC, and killed a young boy standing next to him.

By official count, 48 persons were killed and more than 600 wounded as pro- democracy demonstrators took to the streets to demand the ouster of military strongman Suchinda Kraprayoon.

But the death toll is believed to be far higher. Nearly 600 persons are listed as missing.

″We got one of you yesterday,″ an enraged army captain screamed at five foreign photographers while confiscating their film at gunpoint last Wednesday.

″We told him not to take pictures, but he took pictures, so we beat him to death,″ the captain said.

″He pointed at each of us and told us ’If I see you again, you die, you die, you die. You are hurting the image of Thailand,‴ said Charlie Cole, a Newsweek photographer.

The flash of cameras in the night brought bursts of automatic weapons fire. Soldiers sprayed gunfire at hotel balconies where journalists had taken refuge to view the carnage on the streets below.

At least two foreign citizens were killed and five others wounded by gunshots. Some observers believe they were mistaken for journalists.

Journalists also had cameras smashed and film confiscated as they attempted to record such scenes as soldiers shooting fleeing demonstrators in the back and beating crying prostrate women with rifle butts.

″We pulled people back when it got dangerous. We felt that the military was going to shoot anybody,″ said Pichai Chuensuksawadi, an editor at the Bangkok Post. ″But a lot of our people refused to leave. They said it was now a personal thing.″

Three Bangkok Post employees were injured during the military assaults.

According to police Gen. Uthai Asvavilai a foreign journalist was beaten to death with clubs by soldiers May 18.

″I saw it with my own eyes,″said Uthai, who was at the scene of the violence. ″It was not human. They beat him on the head and threw his body on a truck. I can confirm that he was dead. I hope the foreign press tells the world what happened, because the military is trying to close the eyes and ears of the Thai people.″

But the journalist’s death could not be confirmed. There was speculation that a foreign tourist, possibly with a camera, could have been mistaken for a journalist.

Associated Press photographer Pornvilai Carr remains under medical care from a serious eye injury. After striking Ms. Pornvilai with batons, police threw a rock that struck her face.

At least one newspaper office was stormed by troops, three newspapers were ordered shut and the military turned television and radio stations into propaganda mouthpieces.

Several employees of local television stations have resigned to protest censorship. One television news reader is in hiding after receiving threats from viewers irate at the distorted broadcasts.

Pro-democracy advocates have in recent days called for privatization of military and government controlled media and strict laws against censorship.

Update hourly