Pushing and shoving broke out yesterday when the monks tried to eject the officials. After the scuffle, barricades were erected between them to prevent further clashes. The temple also asked the officials not to cut off the water and power supply as residents nearby would also be affected.
Police deployed 26 more companies to join the operation. The DSI lodged a complaint with police after the scuffle in which some DSI officers were injured.
The tough stance came on the fifth day of the operation at the Pathum Thani temple to search for former abbot Phra Dhammajayo, wanted in connection with the multi-billion-baht Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal.
A scuffle broke out Monday morning when dozens of monks, wearing masks, tried to prevent the authorities from entering the temple’s compound through Gate 5 and Gate 6. Some police and Wat Phra Dhammakaya followers were injured.
There was no sign of Phra Dhammajayo at the end of the fifth day amid rumours that an order issued under Section 44 of the interim charter to enable the search operations would be revoked.
The order was intended to allow officials to temporarily control the temple and surrounding area and prevent outsiders from entering after Phra Dhammajayo repeatedly failed to report to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to acknowledge charges against him, and after his devotees obstructed the DSI’s previous search operations.
Quoting Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, government spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the operations at Wat Phra Dhammakaya were about the enforcement of the law.
“The principle is strict enforcement of the law, or the case will set a bad example ... that the law can’t be implemented there. The government can’t afford that. The law must be applied everywhere,” Lt Gen Sansern said.
He said the prime minister was closely observing the operations led by the DSI with police and troops as support units. Lt Gen Sansern insisted authorities were aware of the sensitivity of the issue and they were exercising caution in carrying out their job. He said handling the issue was no easy task.
The government spokesman also called on the media to be careful when reporting on the operations, saying some temple followers were trying to distort facts and undermining officials.
He said some were even dragging Buddhism into the controversy when it was not, arguing the authorities were merely trying to bring Phra Dhammajayo to fight charges in the justice system.
The search operation was led by the DSI with the support of police officers from Provincial Police Region 1, Provincial Police Region 7, and the Metropolitan Police Bureau. Soldiers were deployed outside the temple to maintain order and prevent people carrying weapons into the temple.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon also said authorities were enforcing the law and they could be charged with negligence of duty if they did not enforce the search warrant.
“We don’t care if Phra Dhammajayo is arrested [in this operation] or not. We are executing the search warrant. Authorities must be able to search every nook and cranny,” he said.
He also emphasised that authorities must tell the public, the monks and the temple disciples that they were enforcing the law. He denied a full-blown clash took place between officers and temple followers, saying it was a little pushing and shoving which occurred during a stand-off.
Justice Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said he would leave it to the authorities to decide how to handle the disciples and followers of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, who were reportedly turning up in large numbers.
He denied reports the authorities would seize control of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, detain and defrock the monks, and prohibit them attending a Pali language examination at Wat Khien Khet today (Feb 21) and tomorrow (Feb 22) in Pathum Thani.
“It will be all right if the search for Phra Dhammajayo fails. But I would like to ask the Supreme Sangha Council and monks in charge of running Wat Phra Dhammakaya, and government officials, to join hands to solve the problem, to move in the same direction for the sake of social order,” he said.
The department was questioning Phra Thammasak Charuthammo, who claimed to have seen Phra Dhammajayo sneak out last Thursday (Feb 16).
Tension heightened on Sunday afternoon (Feb 19) after the devotees launched a campaign on social media to mobilise hundreds of thousands of supporters nationwide to pressure officials into ending the temple search.
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