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FEBRUARY 7, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 5

U N C O M F O R T A B L E   Q U E S T I O N S
Was It Murder, or Self-Defense?

Sakchai Lalit/AP
Thai officials display the bodies of Karen guerrillas killed in the commando raid that ended a hospital takeover in Ratchaburi.

When the shooting stopped, the nearly 100 Thai commandos who marched out of Ratchaburi Regional Hospital received a heroes' welcome. After all, they had not only saved every one of the 500-odd hostages, they had also shot dead all 10 of the gunmen who had seized the hospital. "The commandos did a great job. These bandits deserved to die because they were criminals, not people fighting for democracy," said Pheera Bungching, a former provincial governor.

But by week's end, as former hostages began to speak up and grisly photos were splashed across the front page of a local newspaper, the "heroes" were looking more like cold-blooded killers. Witnesses say the hostage-takers--whom they describe as "armed men with soft hearts"--laid down their weapons and gave themselves up. They were then marched into a room at gunpoint. "I thought they would just arrest the rebels because they had surrendered," an unnamed hospital administrator told the Bangkok Post. Instead, the administrator said, the gunmen "were shot in the head after they had been told to undress and kneel down."

Cover: The New New Asia
The continent watched glumly as a New Economy rose--faster than Yahoo!'s share price--from Silicon Valley. Now, with a raft of homegrown start-ups ready to make waves, it's Asia's turn

Burma: God's Little Generals
Along the Thai-Burmese border, teenaged twin brothers lead an unlikely resistance against Rangoon
In Cold Blood: A commando raid raises ugly questions

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The sacking of top judges could irreparably taint the judiciary

China: Sour Smell of Success
An unfolding smuggling scandal in Fujian exposes a vast network of corruption that could reach all the way to Beijing
Ms. Clean: The nation's top graft-buster leads the charge

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An ex-bureaucrat rocks the system with a hostile takeover bid

Cinema: Pavilion of Women in China
Cultures clash on a movie set in Beijing

Breaking news from Southeast Asia

Shootout - and Fallout
In disposing of Myanmar rebels in a siege, the Thais faced up to some hard questions

Security officials say the hostage-takers were killed in gun battles, and not executed. "It was either them or us," Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai said on Wednesday. But photos published in Khao Sod, a leading Thai newspaper, showed the dead gunmen stripped to their underwear, lying on the floor--one had his hands tied behind his back. Each had been shot in the head. When Thai security forces displayed the rebels' clothing and weapons at a press conference on Tuesday, none was stained with blood. The room where the killings took place bore no evidence of a firefight--no shot-up doors, windows or walls. Just four bullet holes from a pistol about 30 cm above the pools of blood on the floor.

The government is shedding no tears for the gunmen. "They all deserved it," said Interior Minister Sanan Kachornprasart. According to opinion polls, most Thais agree. Sanan and other officials justify the use of force by arguing that Thailand was too soft on the rebels who seized the Burmese embassy in Bangkok last October. The international community praised the Thai government for ending that incident peacefully: no hostages were harmed, and the rebels were allowed to flee into Burma. But Bangkok's perceived weakness was roundly criticized by opposition parties, national security agencies and Burma's military regime.

The earlier crisis also upset the Thai military. "There seems to be a split within the army," says Sunai Phasuk of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian Studies. Commanders along the border are often accused of having business ties with their Burmese counterparts. They have pushed refugees back into Burma and turned a blind eye to incursions by Burmese troops. Rogue units have reportedly helped transport Burmese soldiers across Thai soil to attack the Karen from the rear; Thailand's shelling of the God's Army base precipitated the hospital takeover.

"The fear is that these rogue elements will use the current public anger against the rebels to hijack foreign policy and manipulate Thailand's democratic government into a more cooperative relationship with Burma's military regime," says Sunai. If that happens, Burmese pro-democracy forces, ethnic groups and refugees will suffer. So too will Thailand's international reputation.

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