Thai police hunting for 7 more over alleged involvement in plot to create unrest

PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

PM denies security threat cooked up to divert public attention from army men's role in the Rajabhakti Park scandal.

AFTER THE arrest of two people suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to create unrest and attack government figures, police are hunting for seven more suspects, the national police chief said yesterday.

Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda confirmed that a movement plotting to create unrest really existed and that police were investigating to determine its possible links with other people.

"Anyone found to be involved will be arrested. The police and intelligence units are monitoring the movement. We are going to find those suspects who are still at large," he told a press conference at the Royal Thai Police headquarters.

The two arrested suspects - Pol Sgt-Major Prathin Chanket, who was formerly with the Border Patrol Police, and Nattaphol Nawanlay - were handed over by the military to the police yesterday.

Prathin, 60, who worked as a security guard at the Bank of Thailand's Khon Kaen branch, and Nattaphol, 26, had been involved in a plot called Khon Kaen Model to create unrest following last year's military coup, according to police.

They were initially accused of violating Article 112 of the Penal Code involving lese majeste and the Computer Crime Act.

Police had said they had evidence the suspects were planning to strike in Bangkok during the Bike for Dad cycling event on December 11.

Pol Maj-General Chayapol Chatchaidej, chief of the Crime Division who is part of the investigation team, said yesterday that the suspects were found to be planning violent attacks at some locations with a focus on Bangkok and targeting the country's VIPs.

He said police investigations pointed to the suspects' link with the so-called Khon Kaen Model, under which unrest was planned in the northeastern province last year. He said the group planned to seize many state agencies in the Northeast by force.

Chayapol said nine suspects were in this group. Prathin was a key player in the Khon Kaen Model. And Nattaphol was procuring weapons and sent messages insulting the monarchy through social media, according to the police officer.

A large cache of weapons was found in the house of another suspect who is still on the run, Chayapol said.

On May 23 last year, a few days after the coup, 21 people were arrested in Khon Kaen on suspicion of plotting unrest.

They were found to be in possession of grenades, explosive devices and hundreds of bullets. Among those arrested was Prathin, who was then working for the central bank's local branch. He was found to be connected to the red shirts.

Pol General Sriwara Ransibhram-anakul, deputy national police chief, said yesterday the group had been active for some time and had collected war weapons with the intention of creating unrest in the country. He added that police were hunting for seven other suspects who were still on the run.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday denied that the authorities were playing up this alleged plot in an attempt to divert public attention from a scandal involving the Army's project to construct the Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin.

In response to the alleged plot targeting government figures, the PM said he would not be scared by such a threat. "I am already risking my life these days," he added.

Prayut also said the threat would not prevent him from visiting the Northeast.

Deputy Premier and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday rejected an allegation by government critics that the alleged plot was part of the government's information operation (IO).

"Real or not, the court has already approved the request for arrest warrants. That's because there's evidence. Let's wait for the result of the police investigation," he said.

When asked if he was concerned about his safety, Prawit responded that he had no conflict with anyone and that he was simply serving the country and the people.

The deputy PM said he has instructed police to increase security measures for the Bike for Dad cycling event in which HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn would also take part.

He said the police would work with the military and the National Council for Peace and Order in providing security during the big national event, when hundreds of thousands of cyclists are expected to join throughout the country.