Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan denied yesterday that the government ordered security officials to keep a watch on former premier Yingluck Shinawatra because of fear she might flee the country.
On Sunday, the junta denied Yingluck permission to travel overseas - ahead of a trial over accusations that she failed to stop corruption and massive losses in the rice-pledging scheme.
Yesterday the former PM's van was stopped at a security checkpoint in Chiang Mai.
Prawit said local security officials just wanted to ensure that Yingluck was safe and sound, as they do not want a third party to have the chance to create turmoil. "It is part of safety measures carried out with good wishes because she is a former prime-minister. We adopt the same measures when she is in Bangkok. This is not revenge or restrictions against her,'' he said.
Nonetheless, security officials appear to be monitoring the former PM's movements. When Yingluck left her Chiang Mai residence to conduct a merit-making rite for her ancestors with relatives at Wat Rongtham Samakkee in San Kamphaeng district yesterday, officials from the Third Army Region set up checkpoints on the way and stopped Yingluck and her security team's vans. They looked in her van and searched that of her guards.
After the search, she went shopping at San Kamphaeng market and was warmly welcomed by traders and locals. Security officials followed her throughout the day.
Third Army Region spokesman Maj General Thana Jaruwat defended his subordinates who set up checkpoints yesterday, saying they normally check vehicles to see if they are carrying illegal weapons or drugs - there was no intent to check Yingluck's van in particular.
He said the security officials did not conduct a search of Yingluck's van, just opened the door to have a look who she was travelling with. "When soldiers realised that it was her van, they gave her respect as a former prime-minister. They did search the vans of her followers and did not find anything suspicious, so they let them go,'' Thana said.
However, he admitted that security had been stepped up in his jurisdiction after the bombs that were set off near Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok.
Last weekend, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) rejected Yingluck's request to leave the country for Hong Kong, China and the UK, saying her trip should be postponed because public prosecutors are about to indict her in the Supreme Court for criminal wrongdoing - alleged negligence in her oversight of the rice-pledging scheme.
NCPO secretary-general Udomdej Sitabutr said although the NCPO and government had the right to decide if Yingluck can travel abroad, if the court accepts the case on the rice-pledging scheme, it will decide if Yingluck can leave the country.
Her lawyers have accused the junta of violating her rights and liberty - as her case is not due to be filed with the court for at least a week.
Yingluck's lawyer, Norawit Lalang, told The Nation yesterday he would like to ask the authorities to please respect the former PM's privacy and right to travel. He cited Article 4 of the provisional constitution on the protection of human dignity and argued that she should receive that right too.
"It might not be appropriate to inspect her car," he said, adding that Yingluck was now a commoner like other Thai people.
Red-shirt co-leader and former Pheu Thai MP Weng Tojirakarn accused the NCPO of wanting to install a Stalinist system in Thailand after army officers searched Yingluck's van yesterday.
"I don't want to think that this is a Stalinist system where searches can be done to anyone. You are building a Stalinist order in Thailand," said Weng who added that Yingluck would never flee if faced with a jail term related to the rice-pledging scheme. She would not run away but face prison "with dignity".
"Yingluck has already declared that she was willing to die for democracy," Weng said.
Meanwhile, the National Anti-Corruption Commission yesterday requested that Yingluck report to the Office of the Attorney General on Thursday next week, so it can file an indictment against her over the rice-pledging scheme in the Supreme Court.
NACC chairman Panthep Klanarongran said the anti-graft body's secretary-general Sansern Poljiak sent a letter to Yingluck, asking her to report to the OAG at 10am on February 19 so prosecutors can indict her in the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders over the rice scheme.
He said the NACC would also submit a writ next week to the Attorney General against former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyaphirom and others over alleged wrongdoing in a "government-to-government" rice deal.
Yingluck may stay in Chiang Mai till the weekend as she has been invited to join a homecoming party on Saturday by her high school in Chiang Mai.