Thai junta tracks Internet posting to capture protest leader

Thai junta tracks Internet posting to capture protest leader

BANGKOK - Thailand's security forces have tracked down and detained a prominent activist who helped organise protests against last month's military coup from comments he posted on the Internet, officials said on Friday.

Sombat Boonngamanong was caught in Chonburi province east of Bangkok late on Thursday, traced via the Internet network he was using, said Major General Pisit Pao-in, head of a technology crime division at the Information and Communication Technology Ministry.

"Soldiers and police were informed of the IP address used by Sombat to post comments so we searched a house in Chonburi and found Sombat there. We detained him. He is now with the army at an army base in Chonburi," Pisit told Reuters.

"The case is now with the army and it will investigate and decide how to proceed next."

The detention was the latest in the military crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck, her ministers and prominent supporters of the Shinawatras have been detained, most for brief periods, and warned against anti-military activity.

The military has not said how many people are being kept in custody.

The coup was the latest chapter in a decade-long conflict between the Bangkok-based royalist establishment, dominated by the military and old-money families, and supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who are adored by the poor in the north and northeast.

Yingluck was prime minister until May 7, when a court found her guilty of abuse of power and she stepped down. The army toppled the remnants of her government on May 22, saying it needed to restore order after sometimes deadly protests since November that had brought the economy close to recession.

Since then the junta has moved to suppress criticism and nip protests in the bud.

Sombat had refused to turn himself in to the military authorities after being summoned following the coup. He managed to post a final status update on Facebook saying: "I have been arrested".

He had helped organise protests via social media in contravention of the junta's ban on political gatherings of more than five people.

Last Sunday, the ruling military council sent 5,700 troops and police sent into central Bangkok to stop anti-coup protests as soon as they sprang up. Most were small events held around shopping malls. Very few protests have been seen this week.

Sombat had helped organise regular demonstrations to mark a crackdown by the military on the "red shirts" in May 2010 that ended a lengthy protest during which more than 90 people died.

Junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has moved to reassure investors that the military council aims to fix the economy. He met Chinese businessmen in Bangkok on Friday and told them that an interim government would be set up in three months' time and asked that they continue investing in the country.

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