Published: 12/10/2009 at 12:52 PM
The army and the police have relied heavily on GT-200 bomb detectors in their fight against the militants in the far South, but the equipment's failure to detect the recent car bomb in Sungai Kolok on Oct 6, and several previous failures, raised serious doubts about its effectiveness, the users' training, and its potential for human rights violations.
The failure of the GT-200 bomb detection device to detect a huge car bomb which exploded in Sungai Kolok district of Narathiwat on October 6 has raised a big question mark in the minds of many residents there about the effectiveness of the device or the ability of the device operators.
One person was killed and more than 300 injured in the Oct 6 bomb blast, believed to be detonated with a mobile phone by a militant hiding near the vehicle and its load of explosives.
IA shopkeeper said he had alerted authorities, suggesting they a car parked opposite the Merlin hotel in Sungai Kolok after he became suspicious of the men who had just left the vehicle
A bomb detection squad later arrived at the scene and searched the area with the help of GT-200 devices, which detected nothing suspicious. Shortly afterwards, the car exploded.
Khunying Porntip Rojanasunant, director of the Forensic Science Institute of the Justice Ministry and an expert in the use ogf the GT-200, admitted that there is a 50-50 per cent chance it could fail to detect explosives. It depended on the state of the operator and whether the correct memory card was properly inserted or not, Issara news agency of the Thai Journalists Association reported.
She said there was only a slim chance of a mistake in the card's insertion, and a greater possibility that the person using it could be tired, which could affect the effectiveness of the device.
Khunying Porntip’s theory appears to corroborate the opinion of a police bomb demolition expert in Narathiwat, Saen Varongkapaisit who also said that any physical weakness of the operator could affect the equipment.
He also noted that the failure of the device to detect the car bomb in Sungai Kolok might be attributable to the area where the the rigged car was parked. The road was narrow and it was possible the device was held too close.
To be effective, it must be more than three metres from the targeted object, Saen said.
It was also possible that human error was at fault, and that those who were trained in the handling of the device were commissioned officers. In actual practice they were often not the ones who actually operate the devices in the field, but non-commissioned officers who were not properly trained, he said.
Angkhana Nilapaichit, widow of missing human rights lawyer Somchai, was openly sceptical about the GT-200 when she spoke with Issara news agency.
She cited a number of mistakes made by the device and raised concerna about the potential threat to human rights posed by its use as an accepted part of the investigation process in the strife-torn deep South.
The gave examples: during a search of a woman’s house in Tak Bai district of Narathiwat, the GT-200's antenna pointed to the top of a coconut tree, prompting someone to climb up the tree where an old plastic bag containing coconut oil residue was found; another search of a temple in Nong Chik district of Pattani saw the device point to a pot of curry.
The device's failure to detect explosives was most evident in the explosion of a bomb hidden under the bodies of Kosol Kasemsook and his wife Pongsri, who were shot dead by militants in Kok Po district of Pattani.
Security officials who arrived to investigate the murder scanned the area with a GT-200, but the device failed to detect any explosive materials. When they moved the bodies the bomb went off.
Mrs Angkana said the authorities always insisted there was nothing wrong with the GT-200 devices, but none of them could explain why they had failed on various occasions.
But her worst concern was who should be held accountable if the device makes a mistake and someone is incarcerated as a result of the error.
A product of Global Technical of the United Kingdom, the GT-200 is a remote substance detection system which was designed to search large areas and then reduced to use in small locations.
The device can search for a range of pre-programmed drugs and explosives in one operation. But it should be used as a first indication only, and conventional methods should always be used to confirm the result.