BANGKOK: An international human rights group called on Thailand's army chief on Thursday to stop obstructing investigations into a crackdown on anti-government protesters in 2010 when 98 people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded.
"Abuses by soldiers took place in full view of the Thai public and the world's media, yet the Thai army chief is now trying to intimidate investigators and critics into silence," said Brad Adams, Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Anti-government protesters supporting an ousted premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, took to the streets of Bangkok in April and May 2010 demanding snap elections.
The protesters said the then prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, rose to power illegitimately with the help of the military. The protests were brought to an end by soldiers under orders from the government.
At some stages during the protracted demonstrations, mysterious black-clad gunmen mingled with the protesters and battled soldiers and some of those killed were members of the security forces.
But the majority of the deaths were caused by fire from soldiers, according to numerous witnesses and the protesters.
But the army has denied any involvement in civilian deaths, which are being investigated by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), part of the Justice Ministry.
In a television interview last week, army chief Prayuth Chanocha again denied that soldiers were involved in killing protesters, saying some of those in uniform during the protests were gunmen disguised as soldiers.
The DSI said again last week it believed several deaths were caused by shooting by the security forces but that it had yet to come to a conclusion. Prayuth has repeatedly told the DSI to keep quiet until the investigation is complete.
He has also filed a defamation suit against a Canadian lawyer who has acted for Thaksin and his supporters for a speech he made accusing the army of committing violence against the protesters.
Former telecoms tycoon Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters form a large part of the support base of current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is Thaksin's sister.
Families of the mostly working class "red shirt" protesters who were killed during the two-month long protests have called on the government to speed up investigations into the deaths.
Some say the government is trying to protect soldiers in an attempt to win the favor of powerful military figures.
Thaksin, who has been living in self-exile to avoid a conviction for graft, has vowed to return home soon.