Thai prison hostage drama ends in shoot-out

November 23, 2000

Thai commandos on Thursday shot dead a band of armed Myanmar prison escapees who held the governor of a Thai jail and two of his staff hostage in a dramatic overnight chase to the border. All the captives were injured during the rescue mission but miraculously none died in the hail of gunfire that lasted several minutes and ended the 21-hour hostage crisis.

Governor Somwong Sirivej sustained serious head wounds and a warder was stabbed in the back, officials said. Somwong’s deputy and a police officer were being treated for minor wounds. A Thai prison inmate who the armed escapees had bundled into their escape vehicle to act as a go-between with police also survived the ordeal.

Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai praised the rescue mission, saying it restored confidence in Thailand after two other violent sieges involving Myanmar nationals. “We have been watched worldwide during these three incidents that have occurred in Thailand but by taking effective measures we have restored confidence,” he said.

The group seized governor Somwong and six warders mid-morning Wednesday at the jail south of Bangkok, and shot dead a prison religious instructor who attempted to resist the takeover. After a tense eight-hour stand-off with negotiators, the gunmen broke down the main prison gates and drove out of the compound in a stolen pick-up truck, pursued by hundreds of police.

The convicts headed for the border region, demanding safe passage to Myanmar, and released four hostages along the route. Police successfully stalled their progress throughout the night and the rescue mission took place just after 7:30 am in the border province of Kanchanaburi.

Police commandos opened fire on the convicts, who were armed with grenades and handguns, after two flat tyres forced them to halt their vehicle and they alighted to inspect a replacement truck.

Television footage showed the balaclava-clad officers surrounding the vehicles and letting off a sustained volley of gunfire that obscured the scene in a cloud of smoke. Interviewed from his hospital bed later, deputy governor Sema Kumpanon said the captives never expected to live through their ordeal.

“When we left the prison we thought we would not survive, so we talked about dying together,” he said. Sema said he had managed to lie low during the hail of gunfire. “After police opened fire, the prisoners started to shoot back and after a few minutes I opened the door and threw myself out of the car,” he said. The hostage-takers’ bodies have been taken to a local temple where they will be kept for a month and cremated unless they are claimed by relatives.

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