An allegation by the Thai police of an assassination plot against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has sparked a war of words between the government and a fugitive "red shirt" activist, who claims he was set up.
The controversy has also embroiled the influential Dhammakaya temple, where devotees have repeatedly thwarted an attempt to arrest their former abbot who is wanted for fraud.
The alleged murder plot was unveiled by Thai police at the weekend after police and soldiers found M16 rifles, grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition in a raid on a house in Pathum Thani province just outside Bangkok.
Police said the house used to be occupied by hardcore activist Wutthipong Kachathamkhun from the "red shirt" political faction supportive of the Puea Thai party-run government ousted by the military coup in 2014. Ko Tee, as he is more commonly known, has been on the run since 2014 to evade arrest for alleged lese majeste, and is believed to be abroad.
On Sunday, police chief Chakthip Chaijinda told reporters: "These people (Ko Tee's network) are aggressive. They declared that they are against the government. They also help Dhammakaya, from what we know.
"Anybody found to be related to this group would be arrested as they are a threat to the country's security."
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The 400ha Dhammakaya temple, also located in Pathum Thani, was surrounded by some 4,000 security officers after PM Prayut invoked special powers in the interim Constitution to declare the massive area a "controlled" zone. The order essentially authorised any action taken by security officers to nab Dhammakaya's fugitive 72-year- old spiritual leader Dhammachayo, who defied summons over fraud-related charges for over a year by citing ill health.
In response to the Feb 16 order, thousands of Dhammakaya devotees flocked to the temple and its surrounds, creating what was essentially a human shield against the massive manhunt. On March 10, the Department of Special Investigation declared the search within the temple over, but did not indicate when it would lift the special controls over the temple.
According to General Chakthip, Ko Tee's network was prepared to use the weapons found against security officers involved in the stand-off at Dhammakaya temple.
Nine other people arrested at the weekend are accused of being part of the network. Ko Tee rubbished those allegations in an interview on YouTube overnight on Sunday.
Dressed in military fatigues and speaking from an unknown location, he said: "Not only me, but millions of Thais are angry with Prayut and (Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan)." But he said that his network was resisting dictatorship in a peaceful way.
Deputy national police spokesman Kissana Phatanacharoen, when contacted by The Straits Times, said the raids were based on intelligence that it received at the beginning of this month. "We have concrete evidence," he said, adding that the probe was still under way.
Dr Weng Tojirakarn from the "red shirt" umbrella group United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship - which Ko Tee is not a member of - told The Straits Times: "If they had known there was a collection of so many weapons, why did they not investigate over the past three years?" He added: "They are trying to use every method to accuse the red shirts of terrorism."
This article was first published on Mar 21, 2017.
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