Table of Contents


- Strengthening AFAD’s Unity…

Cover Story

- Years of Trials and Triumphs…

Country Situations

- NO political reform, NO hope for justice…

- Hunger Strike

- Indonesian Human Rights Movement…

- Crime and Punishment

- Anti-enforced Disappearance Bill

Human Interest

- A Life That is Never The Same Again

Photo Essay

- Kashmiri families of missing person stage…

Book Review

- Disappearances in Sri Lanka

Report on International Lobbying

- A Narrative of Contrast


- Where are They?
- Working Towards an African Network

- Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency…

News Brief

Mid Year Report



A Life 
That Is Never 
The Same Again…
(An Afternoon with the Thai Mother of a Disappeared Child)

By Mary Aileen D. Bacalso

Mrs. Sungwian Pomaung sat down at the Royal Plaza Hotel lobby near the place where her disappeared son was last seen. She eloquently answered all the questions asked of her. Coming from her own life experience, her story seemed not-so-difficult to tell, yet deep in her heart, the pain of loss continues to haunt her each passing day. 

Sungwian is one of the many mothers of her age who lost their children during the gruesome massacre that occurred in Bangkok, Thailand in May 1992. This sixty-nine year old woman, whose occupation is selling towels in the busy city of Bangkok, lost her 23-year old son, Sompong Pumaong on that fateful day of May 17, 1992. Eleven years after, she still insists on finding at least the remains of her son, which the Thai authorities fail to return. 

Reminiscing on the times when her family was still intact, Sungwian recalled that they had a house of her own. Her husband was a driver who earned a modest income just enough for the family to survive. They have three children, one of whom is a son who is physically incapacitated - a reality which she has learned to accept. Series of miseries seemed to follow their life as a family when her husband died at a time when her children were very young. A decade later, her other son, Sompong Pomaung, disappeared. She lost two breadwinners and eventually her house. The poor yet once intact family disintegrated and separated from each other. Life was never the same again.

A mother who misses her disappeared son terribly, Sungwian fondly recalls Sompong to be a very dependable son. Called upon by the circumstances that he lost his father at the age of thirteen, he diligently studied law while painting houses in order to augment his mother’s meager income. He had few friends because the family’s poverty had developed in him an inferiority complex, but he was a very good person.

It never did occur to Sungwian on May 17, 1992 that it was the last time she would see her son, Sompong. He accompanied his sister to file a labor case as the latter was illegally dismissed from her job. On the way back, they passed by a huge demonstration where both Sungwian’s children took a curious look. They were together with the demonstrators and innocent bystanders and had no intention to fight against the government. Her daughter went ahead, but her son, Sompong, decided to stay longer and never returned home. A mother not accustomed for her son not to return home, Sungwian believed that her son was one of those who disappeared during the massacre.

The May 1992 massacre in Thailand has been described by the Relatives Committee of the May 1992 Heroes as the bloodiest uprising against Thai democracy advocates. It occurred in the context of a coup committed by a group of top army men a year before, which overthrew the then civilian and elected regime and led to the appointment of an interim regime. A year later, the promised restoration of democracy collapsed when General Suchinda Kraprayoon took over the premiership. The failure to restore democratic processes in the country resulted in a collective rage of the Thai people who demonstrated in huge numbers in Bangkok demanding that General Suchinda step down. The people’s legitimate cry for democracy was violently suppressed. A bloody aftermath ensued resulting in untold sufferings of many people.



Immediately after learning about the disappearance, Sungwian started the never-ending search for her son. She, with the help of her relatives and friends, reported the incident to national authorities, e.g. National Police, the Ministry of Interior and the Social Welfare Sector. They searched for the victim in different places – in houses of relatives, police stations, hospitals and into every nook and corner of Bangkok. All efforts proved futile as the victim was and still is nowhere to be found. A couple of years ago, the Ministry of Defense announced that Sompong Pomaung was one of those who disappeared during the massacre. While legally, the mother accepted that her son disappeared, her search continues for as long as she lives. 

The hotline center enabled Sungwian to get into contact with the other families of the disappeared, the killed and the wounded during the same massacre. Her membership in the Relatives Committee of the May 1992 Heroes enabled her to listen to other people with the same experience. With their collective effort, they managed to get some relief fund from the government under the administration of Prime Minister Chuan Leehpai and under Chavalet Yongchaiyuth. Humbly, she admitted that the money helped her overcome a bit the economic effect of the loss of her son, especially so that the disappeared was a family breadwinner. However, she said that it could never pay for the life lost. Moreover, she mentioned that the amount she and the other families received pales in comparison to the huge amount, which the family of a foreigner killed during the massacre received and considers it as a form of discrimination. Resigned to the possibility that her son was killed during the 1992 massacre, Sungwian continues to demand for the return of her son’s remains. 

Asked about what the Thai government has done to resolve the case, she said that the previous governments did something, but did not pay enough attention to follow up the cases. More things should have been done, she said. The present government has promised to do something, but there is still no action. Why is it that in other countries, the remains of the victims have been found, Sungwian asked? To her own opinion, she thinks that the Thai law is less effective than that of other countries. 

Asked what message she has for society, she said that she does not want this kind of thing to happen again. She commented that when there is an internal conflict, the government should never use force and that conflicts should be settled through dialogue. In order to prevent loss of lives, force, she said, should never be used. She asked the government to be considerate of the poor especially the victims of the massacre who need not only monetary compensation, but more importantly the truth about what happened during the massacre and the return of the remains of the victims.

Encouraged by her co-members in the Relatives Committee of the May 1992 Heroes, Sungwian believes that one day, their collective dream for justice, freedom and peace will come true. She continues to hope against hope that one day, the truth will be known, justice will be achieved and genuine peace will reign in Thailand, often called the land of the free.

VOICE September 2003


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