Thailand: Who were the men on the roof of the Ministry of Labor? UPDATEBy Bangkok Pundit Jan 02, 2014 7:43PM UTC
The Nation on December 29 quoting , People’s Democratic Reform Committee spokesman Akanat Promphan
As per autopsy reports, Pol Senior Sgt-Major Narong Pitisit was shot from a top-down, left-to-right and front-to-back direction. It was likely that the gunfire came from the top of the tallest building in the Labour Ministry compound.
This happened at a time when no protesters were able to enter the ministry and, so far, the authorities have not been able to explain the men in black caught on camera on top of the building, he said.
Akanat also said it was not possible for bullets from a Din Daeng flat to have hit Narong as police claimed, because the landscape did not allow for this to happen.
Then today, after unclear and inconsistent statements,* the Bangkok Post, the authorities conceded that those on top of the Ministry were police officers:
The “men in black” seen on top of a Labour Ministry building during the violent clash between anti-government protesters and police at the Thai-Japanese sports complex in Din Daeng on Dec 26 were policemen, national police chief Adul Saengsingkaew said on Thursday.
MCOT today also says autopsy didn’t show Narong was shot from above:
Pol Gen Jarumporn Suramanee, adviser to the Royal Thai Police Office, said the killing of Pol Sen Sgt Maj Narong Pitisit who was shot dead in the incident was not the work of the men in black on the rooftop.
He said an autopsy stated that Pol Sen Sgt Maj was not shot from above, but from a horizontal trajectory.
Gen Jarumporn noted that four types of cartridge casings were found at clash sites, including 9mm, 11mm, 38mm and 32mm, adding that experts believe 16 firearms were used in the attack, while police had only batons and shields
BP: So did police shoot one of their own?
With permission James has allowed his post entitled “Was a Thai policeman killed by gunmen stationed on top of the Labour Ministry?” to be reposted below. Any formatting errors are those of BP (mostly a simple copy-and-paste, but well it doesn’t always work perfectly) and the full post has been reproduced below [UPDATE: Have added additional images and any additional comments are in square brackets]:
On the 26th December, fighting broke out between Thai police and protesters who were trying to break into the Thai Japanese Stadium at Din Daeng to try to block the registration of candidates for the election scheduled for Feb 2nd. One policeman and one protester died with several more injured – some seriously – on both sides. In situations like this, generally one side claims that the other was in the wrong and refuses to accept any culpability on their part. And so it is here.
I write this not to answer wider questions about the rights and wrongs but to try to clarify a narrower question of whether a policeman was killed by mysterious gunmen stationed on top of the Labour Ministry, which is – obviously – under the control of the government. The protesters claim that these men were most likely hired by Thaksin to shoot both protesters and police alike in order to paint the protesters as violent. To my knowledge, the government have yet to clarify who these men were, but have accused two protesters of firing down at police from nearby flats.
The policeman who died, Pol Sen Sgt Maj Narong Pitisit, was apparently shot from “high ground” according to police forensics. Of course, how they’re able to determine this also raises a question. Surely to be certain of the trajectory, one would have to be aware of the exact position of Narong’s body at the time he was shot. If he was crouching or leaning forward, for instance – which many policemen were on that day – perhaps the gunman needn’t have been positioned above ground level.
In any case, for the purposes of this piece, let’s assume he was shot from higher ground. The contention by the protesters is that Narong was shot by people stationed on the Labour Ministry, pictured here:
[Image No. 1]
That there were men dressed in black on top of the Labour Ministry isn’t in doubt. The question is, who were they, and could they have shot the policeman? This helpful map I found on Twitter (produced by @bkkbase), shows the location of the Labour Ministry on Google Maps and the apparent location where Narong was shot:
[Image No. 2]
As we can see from the zoomed picture on the right, the mysterious figures in black appear to be no more than ordinary riot policemen, using tear gas launchers. It would make sense to position them there to try to prevent police being outflanked by protesters.
Nevertheless, let’s assume for the sake of this argument that they were armed and willing to shoot one of their own. Could they have done it? Well, Narong was shot somewhere behind Gate 3 (located slightly to the right of the stadium on the map below) which is the opposite side of the stadium to the Labour Ministry. The stadium would appear to be blocking any potential gunfire coming from the police stationed on the Labour Ministry. Here’s another graphic (courtesy of @bkkbase again) which better shows the relative locations of Ministry building and stadium:
To assess the relative height of the stadium and the Labour Min building, I went onto Google Street View, walked to the entrance of Soi Mit Maitri 1 on the left of the Labour Ministry and looked up:
[Image No. 4]:
The first building on the right is a gas station, and the building we see directly behind it is actually the building behind the Labour Ministry building in question. It’s impossible to see the building police were stationed on from this position. It simply isn’t high enough and is obscured by the trees. By contrast, the stadium appears on our left, it’s also the left side of the stadium as it appears to us in the second map above. You can see that it would be very difficult to shoot from the top of the Labour Ministry building, as marked on the maps, over the stadium and kill Narong.
The picture below is taken from a building to the right of the one where police were stationed, but it shows that any potential shooter’s line of sight would surely be occluded by the pool, if not the stadium.
[Image No. 5]:
This video captured by the drone also gives a sense of the relative heights involved:
[Video No. 1]
The Labour Ministry building police are stationed on actually appears to be lower than the top of the stadium, so I think we can safely rule out any chance that police shot Narong from this rooftop.
So who did shoot him? Well, as noted above, he was shot during a clash at Gate 3, the opposite side of the stadium to the Labour Ministry building.
Protesters were trying to break into the stadium from the direction of Vipavadee Rangsit and Mit Maitri Road. Here is a shot of Gate 3 taken again from Google Street View (Vipavadee Rangsit is in opposite direction to camera facing):
[Image No. 6]:
See this also from Khao Sod: “A witness, Mr. Sutthirak Khumsom, who reportedly saw the incident told Khaosod that he was working with 7 other rescue workers near Gate 3 of the Stadium at around 17.00 yesterday when a hail of gunfire rained down on their position. His co-worker was hit by one of the bullets as she was helping a wounded victim, Mr. Sutthirak said.”
Unfortunately, the witness doesn’t state which direction the shots came from.
However, this video appears to show police beside the stadium some way behind Gate 3 being shot at from the direction of the protesters (note the stadium is on their left). At around 2:42 you can hear what sounds like bullets whizzing past the police and a few seconds before that, we seem to hear bullets hitting the police van behind them. Note the bullet marks on the van at the end of the video. I’m not an expert but they appear to have struck the van from a fairly flat trajectory. The shots could have surely only come from the direction of the protesters.
[Video No. 2]
We see Narong being picked up by fellow policemen at 3:46 but it’s unclear if he’d been shot where we see him, or if he’d been hit before and had made it that far before collapsing.
Below, another useful graphic produced by @bkkbase shows where we believe Narong was picked up from by police and taken to. As far as we can tell police were forced back by protesters from Gate 3, retreating to the area beside the pool where we see Narong being picked up and eventually abandoning the side of the stadium completely until they were later able to counter-attack.
[Image No. 7]
For the arrow on the top right, see this video which shows the area where Narong is treated and reporters seemingly shouting towards protesters who had possibly followed police around there from the Gate 3 area. Note that had a ‘sniper’ been positioned on top of a building around the Labour Ministry, police would’ve seemingly dragged Narong directly into his line of sight. Instead, it’s clear that they considered this area safe.
Also note that police officers in the above video are crouching down, a bullet striking a crouching Narong which was fired by a standing protester could account for the angle of bullet entry. Someone on top of one of these ladders would also be positioned higher than police (though this pic was taken in the early morning during the initial attack, just after 7am and Narong was shot sometime mid-morning):
[Image No. 8]
The other possibility is CAPO’s claim that two protesters fired on police from a nearby flat. These are the flats directly across from Gate 3 as seen on Google Streeview:
[Image No. 9]
The windows are facing inwards. Whilst it’s certainly not impossible that someone was firing down from a balcony, it seems unlikely. All we can say for certain at this stage is that the men on the Labour Ministry building had nothing to do with Narong’s shooting. Bullets were coming from the direction of protesters and it’s also highly likely – though not certain – that police fired live rounds back at them.
As usual in Thai politics, mysterious ‘third hands’, who’re often said to be hired assassins from Cambodia, are blamed for these incidents which have sadly occured all too regularly during the political conflict of the past eight years. Rather than mythical foreign assassins*, it’s generally the case that a small minority of those involved on both sides use firearms and are responsible for bloodshed. The majority may be relatively peaceful, but it only takes one person with a gun to do serious damage. The same turned out to be true of the incident at Ramkhamhaeng University, where third hands were also initially blamed.
*These rumours always play on the fear of the ‘other’ and the dark place Khmers seem to occupy in the Thai imaginary. But it also reflects the belief that many Thais have that Thais wouldn’t be capable of such extreme violence towards other Thais. Hence the suppression of horrific incidents in Thai history, particularly October 6th, 1976. In 2010, when 93 people were killed, the vast majority of whom were protesters shot by the military, there were strong rumours of Khmer involvement on both sides.
This graphic (with thanks to @bkkbase once again) shows the location of the shooting of Narong more clearly. The first arrow on the left points to Gate 3 for easy comparison with the Google Street View picture, also posted above. The location along the soi that Narong was shot at is also clearly highlighted, together with close up of bullet holes left in the police truck as seen in the second Youtube video above. The snapshot of police bottom left was apparently taken just after gun shots occurred so they are looking in the direction shots came from:
[Image No. 10]
[Image No. 11]
This graphic shows the Labour Ministry from the front together with its location on Google Maps.
The first picture I could find of an attack on the Labour Ministry was timed at 9:04 AM. ‘Protesters got inside Min of Labour, seized and damaged one police car but did not enter bldg.’
[Image No. 12]
Looking at the picture, no tear gas appears to have been used on the protesters at this point. Did police station people on top of the building only after this initial attack? It certainly appears that this could be the case. A video here shows tear gas landing near protesters throwing stones towards the Ministry at 10:30am.
The first policeman was reported shot at around 9:20am, meaning he would’ve likely been shot a few minutes before that. He was shot in the shoulder by a .38 handgun round. It’s entirely possible that police had no one stationed on top of the Labour Ministry when the first shooting with live rounds occured.
Attacks on the Ministry seemed to become more serious throughout the day. A report in The Nation:
“Windows were broken and our offices were ransacked,” the ministry’s permanent secretary Jeerasak Sukonthachart said, as he called in forensic police to inspect the scene. The damage was most evident at the three-storey front building where several offices, including the Skill Development Department, are located. Niyata Somram, a security guard at the department, said the protesters hurled bricks and stones at police stationed in the compound.
[Image No. 13]
The above picture was sent to me by @kee_neow on Twitter. He says he photographed this car in the Labour Ministry car park and that it would’ve likely been in line with protesters if they were shooting towards the ministry.
However, one protester, Wasu Suchanthabut, who later died, was shot at the Ministry at around 2pm, so if protesters were using live rounds during the clash in this area, it’s not clear that they were the only ones doing so.
[UPDATE NO. 3: With some additional images from Mr. Base – Image No. 14 is by BP though
CAPO said in the case of Pol Sen Sgt Major Narong Pitisit, police had found the shell of a 32-calibre bullet at Gate 3 of the stadium where the registration of electoral candidates took place last week.
BP: A 32-calibre bullet does not have a long effective range. It depends on the specific bullet, firearm, and many other variables, but it is for short distance and the maximum effective range is not more than 100 metres – see here and here.
Image No. 14
BP: If you look at Image No. 2 you can see that the green box on the bottom of Image no. 14 shows the closest position to Narong at the edge of the roof of the Ministry of Labor building where the police could have been. The top green box is where Narong is believed to have been shot – it could be anywhere in a line along that path you can see which makes the distance about the same. As you can see from markers A and B from Google Maps, the distance between A and B is 150 metres. Hence, even if the bullets could bend around the buildings like in a Hollywood movie – remembering the height and width of the buildings in-between the Ministry of Labor building roof where the police were and the location of where Narong was shot – but this still does not get around the problem of distance.
Image No. 15
BP: Note, this seeks to position where the shooter was. Most likely in red, but could have been in yellow. This is assuming the location of where Narong was shot was at per Image No. 2 above.
Image No. 16:
BP: These are screenshots from LTL News video (Video No. 2 above) which can show you the timing of the bullet shots. At 2:17, you cannot see the bullets but at 2:34 we can see the bullets so obviously shots were fired in the direction of the police between 2:17 and 2:34.
Image No. 17
BP: This just seeks to show you where Narong was taken after being shot. First, the inset second from top on the left shows the likely location where he was shot. Second, the image on the right shows looking towards where those in the inset image at the top of the left are where the police took Narong before – there is another video from LTL News of this – showing him being helicoptered out with the helicopter landing in the middle of the field]
End of UPDATE No. 3]
BP: Great post with assistance from Mr. Base…
*On the unclear and inconsistent statements, honestly, the government position has been unclear and it depends on which news source. For example, it seemed clear that Chalerm has said that those on the roof were not police. ThaiPBS:
Regarding the “men in black” seen on the rooftop of the Labour Ministry on December 26 as shown in social media, Chalerm denied that they were policemen but they were protesters attempting to use the Labour Ministry to carry out violent incidents.
However, Post Today has Chalerm saying men in black in the clip in the Ministry of Labour on December 26 were not police for sure. Intelligence affirms they were protesters who were trying to use the Ministry as a base to cause violent incidents (>ร.ต.อ.เฉลิม ระบุถึงกรณีพบคลิปชายชุดดำในกระทรวงแรงงาน ในวันที่เปิดรับสมัครเลือกตั้ง 26 ธันวาคมว่า ไม่ใช่เจ้าหน้าที่ตำรวจอย่างแน่นอน ทางการข่าวยืนยันได้ว่า เป็นกลุ่มมวลชน ที่พยายามจะมาใช้กระทรวงแรงงานเป็นฐานการชุมนุม เพื่อก่อเหตุรุนแรง)
BP: In and on top of are different things. There were people within the Ministry compound causing chaos – see one of videos – and so can’t find a direct quote to see what was being referred too
However, Metropolitian Police Commissioner is paraphrased as stating that after an investigation it was found they were not police (ส่วนภาพที่พบว่าตำรวจอยู่บนดาดฟ้าแล้วยิงใส่ผู้ชุมนุม ตนตรวจสอบแล้วพบว่าไม่ใช่ตำรวจ) (Daily News: Than Setakij)