The Thai authorities have arrested nine red shirts after seizing military weapons from nine different locations in central and northeastern Thailand, claiming the weapons were intended to be used to assassinate the junta leader.
On 18 March 2017, a combined force of police and military searched a house in Pathum Thani Province belonging to Thirachai Utarawichian, an anti-establishment red shirt linked to Wuthipong Kachathamkun, aka Kotee, a fugitive prominent hard-core red-shirt leader.
According to Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, Chief of the Royal Thai Police, the authorities confiscated military weapons such as M16s, an M79, rifles, and ammunition, adding that some of the weapons were stolen from soldiers during the April-May 2010 political violence.
After arresting Thirachai, on the same day the authorities arrested eight more people from different locations in central and northeastern Thailand after searching their premises, seizing more weapons from some of them.
The eight are: Prathueang Onlamun, Palida Rueangsuwan, Thanachot Wongchanchomphu, Suriyasak Chatphithakkun, Bunsong Khotchapradit, Wanchaichana Khrutchaiyan, Udomchai Nopsawat, and Aem-on Watkaew. They are all allegedly linked to Wuthipong.
The police chief said the weapons were part of a plot to assassinate Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, and were to be used against the authorities deployed to control Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani.
Wuthipong, a former red shirt radio host who fled the country in 2014, rejected the authorities’ claim, saying that the weapons did not belong to him and the operation was ‘set up’ by the authorities to portray red shirts as a violent armed group.
He added that he has been out of the country for years and have no motive to engage in the alleged assassination plot or create chaos around Dhammakaya Temple, adding that he fears for the safety of the nine who are now in military custody.
Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, Spokesperson of the Prime Minister's Office, told the media that the operation is not a setup, adding that the authorities will deal with the matter swiftly as it is a major threat to national security.
Some of the weapons seized on 18 March 2017