Bodies to be exhumed in Thailand to probe alleged summary killings

Thailand's government reported Tuesday it will extend a state of emergency in its Muslim insurgency-hit south, and will exhume 300 bodies there to investigate alleged summary killings and whether any of the victims were foreign people. The insurgency has left at least 1,200 dead since it flared in 2004. Southern Muslims, the majority in Buddhist Thailand's far south, accuse the central government of discrimination, especially in jobs and education. The state of emergency will be extended in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces for three months as violence continues, said government spokesman Suraphong Suebwonglee.

Emergency rule lets the government impose curfews, ban public gatherings, censor and ban publications, detain suspects without charge, confiscate property and tap telephones.

It also makes officials immune from "civil, criminal and disciplinary penalties" while carrying out acts including killing civilians under its provisions.

Rights activist say the emergency rule has failed to contain the growing violence, and has worsened the situation by allowing violations of constitutional rights.

Suraphong said the state of emergency, first imposed in July and extended in October, had been due to expire this week.

Also Tuesday, authorities said they will exhume about 300 bodies in southern Thailand to investigate alleged summary executions and the possible involvement of foreigners in the violence.

Human rights groups have accused the government of abducting, torturing and killing suspected southern insurgents.

The bodies will be taken from Muslim graveyards for DNA testing by the Law Society of Thailand, the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Justice's Forensic Department, said law society representative Somchai Homlaho.

The investigation is being spearheaded by Pornthip Rojanasunan, a forensic doctor whose detective work has exposed past official misdeeds and won her national fame.

Pornthip also headed the initial identification of victims from last year's tsunami.

Somchai said family members of people who have gone missing in the past two years have complained to rights groups and his association that state authorities might have abducted and killed their relatives.

The government has denied this, as well as persistent reports that foreigners are fighting alongside Thai Muslim insurgents, the AP reports.

D.M.