Pattani: Dozens of students rallied at a mosque in southern Thailand on Saturday to demand justice for the deaths of 85 protesters a decade ago, a tragedy rights groups say is fuelling a violent insurgency.
The anti-government protest on October 25, 2004 in Tak Bai town in Narathiwat province was one of the bloodiest days in a conflict that has left 6,100 people dead in Thailand's Muslim-majority south.
Seven people were shot dead as security forces broke up the scene, while 78 protesters were suffocated or crushed to death after being stacked on top of each other in army trucks bound for neighbouring Pattani province, their hands bound.
No one from the security forces has faced charges over the deaths.
Around 100 Muslim students gathered peacefully inside the courtyard of a mosque in Pattani on today, raising placards asking for justice as well as singing songs and reciting poems and prayers.
They were planning to stage a flash mob in the streets outside but were warned against a public protest by army officers, said an AFP correspondent at the scene.
Thailand's military imposed a nationwide ban on political gatherings of more than five people two days before staging a coup in May - but the southern provinces bordering Malaysia have been smothered by emergency powers curtailing civil liberties for a decade.
"We want to know why they were transported in that way... Tak Bai victims still haven't received justice," said Chalida Tajaroensuk, director of the People's Empowerment Foundation which organised a seminar about the killings earlier today.
Human Rights Watch also demanded justice for the victims, questioning why no one had been prosecuted even after a government-appointed committee at the time concluded inappropriate methods were used to break up the rally and transport protesters.
"Thailand's failure to prosecute security personnel responsible for the Tak Bai killings is a glaring injustice that brings the police, military, and courts into disrepute," said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director, adding this had "fuelled conditions for the insurgency".
The lush, forested deep south was an ethnic Malay sultanate until Buddhist Thailand annexed it a century ago, and separatist unrest has simmered ever since.
Thai security forces stand accused of widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, abuses and extra-judicial killings.