More patrols at rallies

BANGKOK - Army commander in chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered soldiers to secure vantage positions around all anti-government rally stages to prevent grenade attacks, in the wake of increasing violence amid the political instability.

First Division Commander Maj-General Warah Bunyasit said yesterday that Prayuth's order was because of his worry about attacks using projectiles, especially grenades fired from M79s. "He does not want what happened in front of the Big C mall near the Ratchaprasong rally site to recur," he said.

Constant patrols by soldiers have also been ordered on the elevated tollway over Vibhavadi Rangsit Road following a double M79 grenade attack on Wednesday night on the government's anti-protest Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order.

A lone M79 grenade landed in front of the Big C mall last Sunday evening, killing three people, including two children. Police explosives ordnance disposal experts had said the grenade was likely fired from a vantage position in the nearby Pratunam area.

Twenty-two people have been killed and more than 700 others injured since the anti-government protests began last November.

Warah said that Military Police officers and leaders of squads on patrols of the People's Democratic Reform Committee rally sites would now be armed, primarily for self defence, while most troops on foot patrols and at manned checkpoints would wear bullet-proof vests.

The duration of each patrol would be shortened, as more checkpoints have been set up, with a total of 176 locations, manned by 56 companies of soldiers from various units, he added.

Soldiers have also been stationed outside the National Anti-Corruption Commission building in Nonthaburi, which has been surrounded by pro-government red-shirt supporters. Soldiers are also patrolling the residences of each NACC member to ensure their safety, he said.

CMPO member Tarit Pengdith yesterday condemned the double M79 grenade attack on the CMPO compound on Wednesday night, saying the CMPO was not a rival organisation of any political group in Thailand, including the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra red-shirt movement. He said policemen and soldiers would conduct joint patrols at rally sites at the request of PDRC chief leader Suthep Thaugsuban.

Tarit said that criminal and civil action would be initiated within seven days if any political group is found to have committed a crime or a tort.

CMPO director Chalerm Yoobamrung said that he "dare not say" who was behind Wednesday's M79 attack. He warned that those responsible would be charged with the attempted murder of policemen on duty, a crime that carries the death penalty.

Chalerm claimed that his office at the CMPO inside the Royal Thai Police Sports Club compound was the target of the attack. He said it was assisted by inside information provided to the shooter or those ordering him. "I am sure the attack was not meant to hurt any policeman, but it targeted me," he said, adding his office would now be relocated beyond the 400-metre range of the M79 grenade launchers.

Chalerm's account of the attack differed with that provided in media reports.

He said one grenade landed in the Royal Thai Police Sports Club, where the CMPO is based, and two landed in the Thai PBS compound next door.

Chalerm said the tents of policemen who stayed inside the Sports Club to guard against possible intrusion by anti-government protesters had been relocated further away from Vibhavadi Rangsit Road so as to be beyond the 400-metre range of M79 rounds.

The commander of the Army Personnel Division, Maj-General Suradej Fuengcharoen, inspected soldiers manning checkpoints and locations protected by soldiers, including television stations and Thai PBS. He said later that soldiers had been instructed to stay more flexible and give better cooperation to the CMPO.