BANGKOK – A Japanese journalist killed during protests in Bangkok last year does not appear to have been shot by security forces, Thai investigators said Monday, reversing their preliminary findings and raising immediate questions about the inquiry.
Thailand has come under criticism for the pace of its investigations into the more than 90 deaths, including those of two foreign journalists, that took place during mass protests that began last March and lasted 10 weeks. Another 1,400 people were injured, many with bullet wounds.
In its long-delayed report into the April 10 death of Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto, the Department of Special Investigation said the bullet that killed him was fired from an AK-47 rifle, which is a different weapon than those used by soldiers.
"Our investigation clearly shows that the military did not use AK-47s in their operations," DSI director-general Tharit Pengdith said at a news conference. Tharit, however, declined to say whether the report absolved soldiers of Muramoto's death, saying only that the finding was one piece of evidence in an ongoing investigation.
A preliminary DSI report leaked to Reuters late last year said the bullet that hit the 43-year-old Muramoto came from an M16 rifle fired from the direction of soldiers during a chaotic clash with the so-called Red Shirt anti-government protesters.
Asked about the contradiction, Tharit said the initial finding was based on testimony from a police officer who was near Muramoto when he was shot. The officer was unsure which direction the bullet was fired from but believed it was shot from the military line, Tharit said.
Reuters News editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement that "the apparent contradiction between the preliminary investigation and these reports makes full transparency about the process and the findings imperative."
"We call on the Thai government to take the investigation forward," he said.
Japanese officials have pressed the Thai government to release more information about Muramoto's death and have repeatedly expressed frustration at the lack of progress in the case.
"We will continue to ask the Thai government to carry out its investigation appropriately," a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Monday on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
Tharit said the DSI report will be forwarded to the Metropolitan Police Bureau, "which might have additional evidence that could make the case clearer." The DSI is roughly the equivalent of the FBI in the United States.
Critics have accused the government of stalling investigations for political purposes, saying authorities fear a backlash from the public if findings show that soldiers killed civilians.
Soldiers could be seen firing their weapons in the direction of demonstrators during the final days of the protest, and the military even declared parts of the city "live fire" zones.
The military and government, however, have blamed armed men seen among the Red Shirts as being responsible for most of the deaths that occurred.
The other journalist killed during the protests was Italian freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi, 48, who was shot dead on May 19 as troops moved in to clear the main demonstration area.
Police forensics expert Lt. Gen Amporn Charuchinda told reporters it remained "unclear" who shot Polenghi, saying that investigation was still ongoing.
Authorities have declined to provide an official autopsy report to Polenghi's family, despite repeated requests.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.