Watana Sapwichien turned himself in to the Army Air Defence Operation Centre 1 in Pathum Thani last Friday (Dec 1), the same day the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) lodged a police complaint against the five in relation to the arms cache, which was found in a rice field in Bang Nam Prieo district last week.
Watana has been taken into custody at the 11th Military Circle.
Watana was earlier arrested on Aug 13, 2014 for allegedly conspiring to possess firearms and explosives. The suspect allegedly told officers at that time he handed weapons to another man, who would carry out attacks during demonstrations by the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
A police source said Watana had links to the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).
Doubts have been raised as to the effectiveness of the punishment in relation to the 2014 offence as he is now suspected of having committed a similar transgression just three years later.
The NCPO’s legal team are checking the military court’s ruling on Watana’s 2014 case, an NCPO source said.
“We need to find out how many years he was sentenced for, how long he really served and why he was discharged early,” said the source.
Regarding the Chachoengsao arms case, investigators are determining whether the suspects should be tried in a military or civilian court.
In addition to Watana, the remaining suspects are former PM’s Office minister Jakrapob Penkair, former 3rd Army deputy chief Maj Gen Manas Paolik, Somjet Kongwatana and Chaiwat Polpho, aka Peak Kalamae.
A police complaint against the five concerns charges of conspiring to possess firearms, ammunition or war-grade explosives as well as illegal assembly.
Crime Suppression Division (CSD) acting commander Maitree Chimcherd said officers were likely to seek arrest warrants at the Criminal Court today (Dec 6), depending on progress late yesterday (Dec 5) in wrapping up the probe.
The regime has been criticised for using the case as an excuse for maintaining the ban on political activities despite complaints from parties which need to make changes to comply with the organic law on political parties, which has been effective since Oct 7.
Based on the law, parties must complete mandatory processes, including notification of changes to their membership to the registrar, within 90 days of the law coming into effect, finding 500 members within 180 days and finding an initial fund of B1 million.
Citing the discovery of the weapons, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon last Friday said he had received intelligence reports that some groups of people had begun to form political movements.
The lifting of the ban was therefore not likely any time soon but would be reconsidered nearer the general election.
This line was echoed by army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad, who said on Monday (Dec 4) that political activities should not take place at this time.
Responding to the calls to lift the ban, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda yesterday echoed the remarks made by Gen Prawit that no consideration is currently being given to lifting the ban.
Asked whether the government would consider the revocation as a New Year gift for political parties, Gen Anupong said he would try to raise the issue with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Chusak Sirinil, who is in charge of the Pheu Thai Party’s legal affairs, insisted the charter has granted rights, liberty and duties to political parties, and the organic law allows parties to proceed without any restrictions.
The NCPO is impeding political parties from performing their duties, he said.
Despite claims that parties could seek permission to extend the deadline for their internal procedures, the parties themselves are ready to handle the process in line with the law, but they are obstructed by the NCPO, Mr Chusak said.
He also called on the public to find out whether the NCPO’s decision not to lift the ban is politically motivated as it wants to postpone the election and hold on to power for as long as possible.
According to the NCPO’s road map, the next general election is scheduled to take place in November next year.
Mr Chusak said that although the regime is legally bound by the constitution, that does not necessarily supersede the organic law on political parties.
“Consideration is being made on whether we can use either the criminal or administrative court to protect the rights and liberties of political parties so they are able to perform duties in line with the laws,” Mr Chusak said.
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