Extradition sought for red-shirt leader

Weapons find prompts request to Laos

Top junta officials including national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda (third from left) showed seized arms at a press conference held Sunday. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

The government has vowed to seek the extradition of hardcore red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee, from Laos following the discovery of a huge cache of weapons by authorities in a house in Pathum Thani.

The authorities insist the weapons seizure was not a "set up" to link the house with Wat Dhammakaya temple, which police claim was planning to use the weapons to attack authorities and assasinate both Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.

The war weapons were found in the house by security officers in an operation on Saturday morning.

It was one of nine locations in seven provinces raided by authorities. Nine people were arrested during the operation, all of whom were in Mr Wuthipong's network, according to officers.

Gen Prawit said Monday he wanted Mr Wuthipong brought to justice given the weapons were found in his home, adding officials will contact Laos authorities to seek Mr Wuthipong's extradition.

Mr Wuthipong is facing a lese majeste charge after a warrant was issued for his arrest in April 2014. He then fled to Laos.

He said authorities had searched the house prior to Saturday's raid but found nothing. They believe the weapons had been moved out before the raid and later moved back.

"My intelligence team has followed the group's movements for a long time. People who do not want to see violence also supplied us with a tip-off," said Gen Prawit.

Asked why there was such a big cache of weapons in the house, Gen Prawit said the country has natural border channels through which weapons can be smuggled.

Deputy police spokesman Krisana Patanacharoen said people in Mr Wuthipong's network have played a significant role in past political demonstrations. They have amassed people, arms and money in a bid to cause unrest, he said. The nine arrested suspects were questioned by military officers and they confessed to keeping the weapons for a particular mission, Pol Col Krisana said without elaborating on what their mission was.

"It is not a set-up. In this case, we have evidence and the suspects' accounts which correspond with our intelligence," said Pol Col Krisana, responding to criticism on social media. "This group of suspects is involved in sedition via social media, and they tried to discredit the government.

"They were also involved in a plan to assassinate the country's leader and other important people and have links to Wat Phra Dhammakaya," he said. He provided no evidence pointing to the supposed plot to kill Gen Prayut.

Pol Col Paisit Wongmuang, chief of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), said some of the firearms found belong to soldiers who were dealing with the red-shirt demonstrators in the 2010 political rally.

According to Pol Col Paisit, intelligence obtained by the DSI, military and police indicated some leaders of the 2010 political rally were offering help to Wat Phra Dhammakaya.

Security forces recently laid siege to the temple to arrest its former abbot Phra Dhammajayo.

Intelligence also indicated that firearms taken from soldiers during the political demonstration could be used against authorities searching the temple, Pol Col Paisit said.

Meanwhile, more than 300 police and army soldiers continued on Monday to search a container yard in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakan, which they suspect contains weapons for Mr Wuthipong's network.

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