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Chuan case could backfire

House Speaker Chuan Leekpai was indicted on Tuesday by the public prosecutor, three days before the case is due to expire, under a suit brought by fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who accuses him of defamation.

The House Speaker said he didn’t want the case barred by prescription but wanted it to proceed in court. He acknowledged the charge of his own volition before the deadline expired.

He was not summonsed by the police to acknowledge the libel and Computer Crime violation charges filed against him in connection with a lecture he gave in 2012 during which he accused Thaksin of mishandling the situation in the deep South with his anti-drug policy.

Mr Chuan cited the Krue Se and Tak Bai massacres in 2004 and Thaksin’s derision of the southern insurgents as “inferior bandits.”

Mr Chuan’s secretary and Democrat Party spokesman Ramet Rattanachaweng said the Krue Se and Tak Bai bloody incidents would be revisited during the trial.

Given the sensitivity of these traumatic incidents, especially for those who have lost their loved ones in the four southern provinces, it is doubtful whether they will actually be mentioned during the trial.

However, whether or not they are brought up, the eternal point remains that the state should avoid taking power into its own hands, especially when it is deployed against its own citizens, which is what happened in this case.

In the Krue Se attack on April 28, 2004, 109 people died, including five officials, in a series of violent clashes between security forces and protesters and insurgents at several spots in three southern provinces.

They included the Krue Se mosque in Pattani where 34 people, including armed insurgents and unarmed civilians, took refuge and were killed after security forces attacked the mosque with heavy weapons.

Later on, on Oct 25 that year in Tak Bai district of Narathiwat, seven protesters were killed by security forces, seven went missing, and 78 died of suffocation.

That came after they were forced to lie with their faces down and their bodies stacked one on top of another with their hands tied, as they were trucked for 150 km from Tak Bai district to an army camp in Pattani which took about five hours. Fifty-eight others were put on trial for instigating the protest.

It should be noted that the trial is not a fact-finding mission. Nor is it intended to seek justice for the victims.

It is a courtroom battle between Mr Chuan and Thaksin to prove whether the statements made by Mr Chuan are defamatory of Thaksin or not.

But in a bigger picture, it can be viewed in a political contest as a tussle between the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties to woo support among the Muslim people.

If Mr Chuan’s side is raising these traumatic events to prove Thaksin at fault for mishandling the situation in the far South, it risks backfiring if the victims’ families object.

For this reason, Mr Chuan’s legal advisers should be mindful of the sensitivity of the case and the negative impacts that may result from exploiting the case for political gain.

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