Thai inquest lays no blame in killing of Reuters cameraman

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BANGKOK (AP) — Five years after a Reuters video journalist was shot dead during a protest in Thailand, a court said Thursday that its inquest was unable to determine if the shot was fired by Thai soldiers or protesters.

The inconclusive findings were likely to fuel criticism that the military government now running Thailand is trying to whitewash the events of 2010, when the army staged a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto was shot on April 10, 2010, while covering the worst political violence Thailand had experienced in years. Thai soldiers armed with live ammunition and rubber bullets fired into the crowd to dislodge protesters from encampments in the capital. The army had accused protesters of firing live rounds and throwing grenades during the clashes.

The country's Department of Special Investigation released a report in 2011 saying Muramoto's death did not appear to have been caused by security forces, a reversal of preliminary findings that raised questions over whether authorities were trying to absolve the military.

On Thursday, the Bangkok South Criminal Court said its own inquest could lay no blame. "It is not known who committed the action" since investigators could not determine the specific type of weapon or bullet or trajectory the shot was fired from, according to the inquest.

The court said it could determine only that the 43-year-old Muramoto was killed by a high-velocity bullet that entered his upper left chest and exited from the back of his right arm.

Thailand has been criticized for the slow pace of investigations into more than 90 deaths that took place during mass protests in 2010. Another 1,400 people were injured, many with bullet wounds. Muramoto was one of two journalists killed during the 10 weeks of protests and street clashes that turned parts of the capital into a war zone, with certain area declared "live fire" zones by the military.

Jessada Jandee, a lawyer for the families of Muramoto and two protesters also killed that day, called the court's finding "unexpected" and said the families wanted to find a way to appeal.

"Reuters continues to mourn the loss of our respected video journalist, Hiro Muramoto," the news agency's spokesman David Crundwell said in an email. "The safety of our journalists is our highest priority and we take every precaution we can to ensure it."

Thai authorities have a long history of shielding military personnel from prosecution in political bloodsheds. Separate inquests since 2010 have blamed some of the deaths on Thai soldiers, yet no soldier or military official has been held accountable.

In a different inquest on Thursday, a Thai court found a male protester was shot dead during an anti-government demonstration in 2013, but it could not identify the shooter.

The 2010 protests were led by so-called Red Shirt anti-government protesters who support ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. In 2011, Thaksin's sister, Yingluck, won a landslide election that eventually sparked protesters from the other side of Thailand's political divide, which ended with another coup on May 22, 2014.

Former army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha is now Thailand's prime minister. Prayuth led last year's coup, and has been criticized for one-sided policies that penalize Thaksin supporters.

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