Army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart has insisted that a 22-year-old infantry private who is struggling to survive went into cardiac arrest during a fistfight with another soldier, not while being disciplined.
Private Khacha Chapa of the 31st Infantry Regiment (King’s Guard) stationed in Lop Buri was hospitalised on Tuesday night and the Army officers who sent him to hospital claimed he had “acute cardiac arrest” stemming from “an unknown cause”.
Chalermchai said Army recruits were no longer beaten as a form of punishment, but the matter would be investigated and anyone found to be at fault would face both disciplinary and criminal action.
An aunt of Khacha, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the family would seek Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s help in getting to the truth.
He said the Army would cover Khacha’s medical costs but asked that the matter be kept out of the news, the aunt said.
Khacha’s heart stopped a second time at 2am on Wednesday, she said, and he was now on a respirator in intensive care.
Doctors have given him a 30 per cent chance of surviving but said that, even if he regained consciousness, he would have suffered brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.
Khacha’s aunt took photos when she first visited him along with his mother and wife, but claimed that soldiers had since been assigned to “stand guard” and were preventing any further photography. She also claimed that Khacha’s mother saw bruises on his chest and midsection.
Khacha was conscripted in May 2017, had never before been subjected to violence and was in good health, the aunt said.
She recalled a senior private making a video-call to him while he was visiting home on leave last month and demanding he return to base immediately. Khacha refused and was ordered to do push-ups as punishment on the spot, in the midst of a family meal.
“I’ve heard about soldiers being beaten but I never thought it would happen to my family,” the aunt said. “I hope the justice takes its course and these heavy-handed wrongdoers are punished.”