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Thai Court Convicts 1, Acquits 4 Policemen in Disappearance of Muslim Lawyer


A court in Thailand has convicted a senior police officer in connection with the disappearance of a Muslim human rights lawyer, but the court acquitted four other officers. The lawyer's wife says she is disappointed with the verdict, and will continue to press the authorities to locate her husband.

A Bangkok court Thursday sentenced a police major to three years in prison for illegally detaining human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit. However, the court acquitted four other policemen of similar charges, on technical grounds.

Somchai's wife, Angkana Neelaphaijit, later told reporters of her disappointment with the court's verdict.

"Today the court gave verdict on the case of the abduction of Somchai and the robbery of Somchai," she said. "I am very disappointed in the verdict because only one suspect was convicted on charges related to forcing Somchai into a car."

Angkana said that because her husband is still missing, she would press the authorities to find out where he is.

A witness told the judge he saw Police Major Nguen Thongsuk force Somchai into a car in a Bangkok parking lot in March 2004.

The outspoken lawyer has not been seen since. His family believes he is dead. He had been defending suspected Muslim separatists accused of involvement in deadly attacks in Thailand's three southernmost provinces.

Thailand's Muslim-dominated south has been shaken by two years of attacks in which more than 1,200 people have been killed. The attacks have been blamed on traffickers, corrupt officials and on militants seeking to create a separate state in what was once an independent sultanate.

Somchai's disappearance came two months after an attack on an army base in which four soldiers were killed. One of Somchai's clients had told a court that he was tortured into confessing to involvement in the incident.

Human rights activists say the allegations and Somchai's charges that security forces used excessive force in seeking to quell the violence had angered some officials.

The case has drawn expressions of concern from human rights groups, the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.