Funeral held for Thai cadet at centre of army abuse scandal

Supicha Tanyakan, the sister of Pakapong Tanyakan, a first year cadet in the Thai army, carries his photo during a cremation ceremony in Chonburi on Dec 10, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

CHON BURI, THAILAND (AFP) - A Thai army recruit whose death captured national attention after his organs were removed in mysterious circumstances showed signs of being physically assaulted, his family said Sunday (Dec 10), citing the results of an autopsy ahead of the teenager's funeral.

The army said 18-year-old Pakapong Tanyakan died of heart failure at a training school outside Bangkok in October.

But his family - sceptical of the official cause of death - commissioned their own examination only to discover that Pakapong's brain, heart, bladder and stomach were missing, a dark twist that only intensified allegations of a cover-up, ignited public anger and turned the case into national news.

Supicha Tanyakan, Pakapong's sister, told AFP that a second autopsy by the Central Institute of Forensic Science concluded he was physically assaulted because "internal bruising was found".

The autopsy also suggested his broken ribs were not the result of vigorous first aid, she said.

The new findings add to mounting pressure on the country's military to explain what happened to the first-year cadet, with his case raising concerns about the treatment of new conscripts.

Four officers have been transferred and former army chief and now-Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he was "deeply sorry" to hear about the death.

The next phase of the autopsy will examine the internal organs that were given back to the family in the outcry that ensued following the macabre discovery.

After that the family members will decide whether or not to pursue legal action.

Thailand's military, which has ruled the country since a coup in 2014, has been dogged by allegations of trainee abuse and at least three fatalities have been reported this year.

Pakapong had described being punched in the stomach and fainting while at the academy, his parents told reporters.

The military launched its own probe into the death but has denied wrongdoing and said that removing the organs for further inspection was standard procedure. Military officials did not return calls requesting comment on the new findings.

The funeral on Sunday was the real version of a ceremony that took place shortly after Pakapong's death in which the family pretended to cremate his body but kept it instead for the purpose of getting the second opinion.

About 200 close friends and family came to the ceremony in Si Racha district in Chon Buri province, where his childhood friend sang a song in commemoration.

"This afternoon we will cremate his body," his sister said at the temple where the ritual was being held. "It's time that we put his body to rest."

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