Thai police kill 9 convicts in shootout

BANGKOK, Reuters

Thai police marksmen shot and killed nine armed Myanmar convicts and rescued their three hostages after a gun battle close to the Thai Myanmar border, police said on Thursday.

Police told Thai radio the convicts, who staged a dramatic jailbreak from a Thai provincial prison with a group of Thai hostages on Wednesday, were killed after police fired into a light pick-up truck they were using to escape.

The three hostages survived the shootout, but one of them, the governor of the prison, Somwong Sirivecha, was in a coma after a gunshot wound to the head, police said.

Another hostage, Deputy Prison Governor Sema Kumpanant, escaped the shootout with only minor bruises.

The governor and deputy governor were removed from the scene of the shootout by helicopter.

One police officer was injured in the gun battle about 30 km (20 miles) east of the Myanmar border.

A third hostage, also a prison official, was injured and was being taken to hospital with knife wounds, police said.

Police said a Thai convict, who was forced by the Myanmar prisoners to join the escape, was injured.

“We had given up hope of getting out of this alive,” Sema told a radio station.

Police had said earlier that there were about eight escaping Myanmar convicts.

Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai praised the police action, saying it was necessary after the convicts deliberately shot and killed a prison school instructor at the start of the hostage drama on Wednesday.

“It is good news that the hostages are okay and that the culprits did not get away,” he said. “(They) had conspired to kill people and that is a crime punishable by execution. It is good that none of them escaped.”

Chuan said an inquiry would try to find out how the convicts obtained the weapons used in the jailbreak.

The early morning shootout started when a shot was apparently fired by the convicts, prompting police snipers to return fire, a police officer told reporters.

“The convicts were asking for a new car after their getaway vehicle had flat tires. We didn’t know why they fired the first shot and we decided to return fire, being concerned about the safety of the hostages,” the officer said.

Journalists at the shootout, which lasted several minutes, told the radio station one of the dead convicts was found clutching a grenade in his hand. They said two more grenades and an assortment of firearms and knives were found in their vehicle.

The prisoners, all serving long sentences, were allowed to drive away from Samut Sakorn prison, about 40 km (25 miles) southwest of Bangkok, on Wednesday after they seized seven prison officials.

Police ended the 21-hour hostage drama in the Thai border province of Kanchanaburi, about 125 km (78 miles) west of Bangkok, after an overnight high-speed chase through central Thailand.

The dramatic jailbreak was the third violent act staged by Myanmar nationals in Thailand in 13 months.

Ten ethnic Karen fighters seized a Thai western provincial hospital last January and held several hundred Thai hostages for 22 hours before they were overcome by Thai security forces.

In October 1999, five Karen guerrillas occupied the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok and held dozens of people hostage for 25 hours. The guerrillas negotiated a getaway in a helicopter in exchange for the safety of the hostages.