Paiboon Bunthos, a stringer for the daily Thai Rath in the provincial town of Mukdahan, near the Laotian border, opened fire on four of his colleagues during dinner on a floating restaurant, killing three, before committing suicide by turning his weapon on himself, according to police reports.
The reporters killed were Suchart Charnchanavivat, 62, editor of the newspaper Chao Mukdahan and a stringer for the daily Siam Rath; Settha Sririwat, 38, a stringer for the daily Naew Na and Channel 3 television; and Chuvit Chueharn, 38, a stringer for iTV, The Nation newspaper, and the daily Krungthep Thurakij. Also injured in the attack were Somboon Saenviset, a stringer for the Daily News, and Vichian Susonna, a lawyer.
The motive behind the attack remains unclear. At the time of the shooting, police reported that one of the victims, Suchart Charnchanavivat, had recently published articles in his local newspaper, Chao Mukdahan, accusing unidentified local journalists of bribe-taking and extortion. According to Thai journalists, there were other long-standing differences among the men, including allegations of theft lodged by the gunman against others in the group.
The dinner at the floating restaurant was supposedly organized so that the men could settle their differences.
Officials of the Thai Journalists Association say that the incident in Mukdahan might be related to the journalists’ illegal business activities. It is not uncommon in Thailand for provincial newspaper stringers, who are notoriously underpaid, to use their positions to solicit bribes or to gain favors with local officials. Mukdahan is a center for a thriving border trade with neighboring Laos, which may also have played a role in the killing, according to Thai journalists. In the aftermath of the incident, the Press Council of Thailand issued a letter on December 10 calling on national newspapers to exercise more care in training and recruiting their provincial stringers in order to minimize corruption and unethical behavior.
The Thai Journalists Association did not consider the attack to be related directly to journalism, but the bizarre nature of the tragedy makes it very difficult to sort out the gunman’s motive.