Weapons cache linked to red shirts

Assault rifles, grenades, 5,500 rounds of ammunition found in Pathum Thani

A huge cache of weapons was discovered when police and soldiers raided a house linked to hardcore red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee, in Pathum Thani yesterday.

It was one of the nine locations in seven provinces raided in anti-weapon operations yesterday.

The two-storey house in Pathum Thani's Lam Luk Ka district, which also serves as the office of Thai Max Group Co, was found to have kept a large number of weapons, including four M16 assault rifles, a shotgun, a carbine, an M79 grenade launcher and its eight grenades, 11 hand grenades and more than 5,500 rounds of ammunition.

Other items found in the house included passports, bank accounts, loudspeakers, documents and several red clothes bearing the name of "Kotee".

More than 30 officers joined the operation to search the house at 8am. Also present were deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, Pol Maj Gen Sombat Milintachinda, deputy commissioner of the Provincial Police Region 1, and Col Burin Thongprapai of the military's staff judge advocate.

Mr Wuthipong has not been seen in public since the government led by the Pheu Thai Party which the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) supported was ousted in a coup in 2014. He earlier ran a community radio station and lived in Pathum Thani.

Pol Maj Gen Sombat said the house is linked to the network of Mr Wuthipong. A man in the house was arrested and taken into custody. He was identified later as Theerachai Utarawichian.

A security source said the raid was carried out after an intelligence unit indicated a large number of war weapons were kept in the house.

The source said Mr Theerachai confessed to keeping the items brought from a community radio station owned by Mr Wuthipong.

Mr Theerachai said he knew Mr Wuthipong during the red-shirt demonstration when he was an electricity technician for the stage of a political rally, the source said.

Mr Theerachai was yesterday taken to the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok where he would be questioned for seven days before being sent to police to face prosecution, the source said.

First Army region commander Apirat Kongsompong said he received an initial report from the operation officers that various kinds of weapons were found there during the raid.

"We need to wait for the police investigation into the weapons and their owners to determine their objective," Lt Gen Apirat said.

The probe will look into whether the arms were to be used to cause trouble for officials searching Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani's Khlong Luang district or to make threats against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, said Lt Gen Apirat, adding: "If there is clarity on the matter, an official announcement will be made later."

Meanwhile, another eight raided sites were in Pathum Thani, Ang Thong, Nong Khai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Surin and Samut Prakan. Seven people were arrested during the operation.

In Prachuap Khiri Khan, officers arrested a man who allegedly possessed a shotgun, a pistol and eight BB guns as well as multiple rounds of ammunition in his house in Hua Hin district.

Officers apprehended men in Surin and Nakhon Ratchasima for allegedly possessing a handgun. Both allegedly held materials linked to the red-shirt movement.

In Pathum Thani, a man was arrested for allegedly being in possession of a car with a fake licence plate and a package of speed pills.

Another two arrested in Ang Thong and Pathum Thani were found to have held materials linked to the red shirts.

Officers also searched a container depot in Samut Prakan believed to have kept weapons linked to Mr Wuthipong's network.

The Pathum Thani raid came after army officers had arrested people who supplied information.

Gen Prawit and army chief Chalermchai Sittisat earlier revealed that there was an attempt to trigger chaos at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and the military intelligence unit kept tracking the movement of the group.

The group was also behind a threat on social media to harm Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit. It is also linked with the lese majeste fugitives in Laos, where Thai authorities are requesting their extradition.

Thida Thavornseth, a key red-shirt leader, said she was surprised at the police's operation to raid a house which the police claimed belongs to Kotee despite the fact he has been missing for three years.

Ms Thida said she does not know whether he is involved in the weapon storage but at least she wants to see the police conduct a fairer probe into the case.

"The police have to give fairness to the accused. If Kotee is really involved, we want to see the police expand their investigations," she said.

She said she still does not understand why the Wat Phra Dhammakaya case is linked with the Kotee case as claimed by some police officers and soldiers.

DEADLY FORCE: Multiple firearms including rounds of ammunition and grenades are on display at a house linked to red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee, in Pathum Thani's Lam Luk Ka district. The cache of weapons was discovered during a raid yesterday morning.

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