Around a hundred people gathered in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) on February 13 for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims of the Nakhon Ratchasima mass shooting, which took place on Saturday night and Sunday morning (February 08-09). They demanded that General Apirat Kongsompong take responsibility by resigning from his position as army chief.
The vigil was organized by the Democracy Restoration group (DRG) and the People’s Party for Freedom. Flowers and candles were placed in front of the BACC, along with a blank piece of cloth on which people wrote messages of condolence.
The organizers asked the participants to stand in a minute of silence and to join them in lighting candles in memory of the victims. The group also read out a statement, which called for the army to take responsibility for the attack and for Gen. Apirat to resign.
“We express our deepest condolences for the families and friends of those who lost their lives, and we send our support to the injured. We also would like to acknowledge the work of medical personnel, security personnel, police officers, several news agencies, as well as others who are involved, who joined forces and tried their best to stop the attack and limit the losses,” said the statement.
“The atrocity that happened not only brought sadness to all Thai people, but also raised concerns, as we cannot tell whether a similar incident will happen again, and who will be the next victims, as the army, which is involved with the attack in many aspects, has not shown that it recognizes its structural issues and failures, especially in how they store high calibre weapons, and has not shown that it will make changes to prevent such problems and failures from happening again in the future.”
The statement then went onto say that the attack has its roots in the problem of businesses inside the military and the use of state land, as well as abuses of power by commanding officers. It also said that the attack shows that security at military bases and armouries is lacking, as the gunman was able to take several weapons from the armoury before going on his shooting spree.
“Even then, Gen Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief, the highest commanding officer in the army, still said that it was a personal problem that is unrelated to the army. This shows that this army chief not only lacks the ability to ensure there are no failings within the organization, but when such failings lead to a tragedy, he is also not capable to understand these issues from all aspects. We therefore demand that Gen. Apirat Kongsompong resign from his position as the army chief to show his responsibility for the aforementioned failings.”
DRG, the People’s Party for Freedom, along with representatives from the Student Federation of Thailand, also went to parliament on February 13, to submit a request to the Standing Committee on the Armed Forces to investigate management issues within the army which has led to conflict of interest, abuse of power by commanding officers, and inefficiency in weapon storage.
Nakhon Ratchasima massacre
On February 08, the gunman has been identified as Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth Thomma, a soldier from Surathampitak Military Camp in Nakhon Ratchasima, shot and killed his commanding officer before stealing guns from the armoury and going on a shooting spree at various locations around the city, including a Buddhist temple. Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Khorat is a province in Thailand’s northeast region. He finally arrived at the Terminal 21 Shopping Centre, where he opened fire indiscriminately at people inside and outside the shopping centre. Dozens of shoppers were trapped inside the shopping centre for hours while police and military officers attempt to gain control of the building. Around 30 people, mostly civilians were killed in the shooting incident.
The gunman was reportedly in a financial dispute with his commanding officer, and the officer’s mother-in-law, both of whom were his first victims. There are reports that he believed they cheated him in a land deal, but it is not clear why this prompted him to attack civilians at random. According to reports, his commanding officer, Col. Anantharot Krasae, operated a business selling homes and helping soldiers borrow money from a military lending programme, often at an amount above the value of the property they were buying. Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth reportedly arranged a loan with the colonel and expected to receive a significant amount of cash back from the loan, but never received the money.
(This article was first published in Prachatai)