In response, at least seven monks of the temple launched a hunger strike demanding the authorities revoke the Section 44 order, which declares Wat Phra Dhammakaya a restricted zone.
The group was led by Phra Isaraphab Ajarasampanno, who said he and six other monks come from Mae Hong Son province and they are monks under the Wat Phra Dhammakaya network.
Speaking to the media, Phra Isaraphab said when he learned officials would raid Wat Phra Dhammakaya, he decided to travel from Mae Hong Son to stage a hunger strike against the authorities’ plan.
He said he is ready to sacrifice his life over this challenge.
The move also came after a meeting yesterday between the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officials and Phra Thattacheewo, deputy abbot of the temple who is now in charge of the temple’s operation, failed to reach an agreement to allow officials to search the compound covering Zones A and B.
The five-hour meeting at the temple’s public relation room was also attended by Phra Thep Rattanasuthee, abbot of Wat Khian Khet, in his capacity as Pathum Thani chief monk, as well as representatives from the Office of National Buddhism (NOB).
Officials began searching the temple last Thursday (Feb 16) following the order, but have failed to locate former abbot Phra Dhammajayo, wanted in connection with the multi-billion-baht Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal.
Maj Suriya Singhakamol, the DSI deputy director-general, said after the negotiations that Phra Thattacheewo, who commands the highest authority over temple affairs, refused to cooperate with the officials in the search.
This came despite the DSI officials and senior monks making every effort to negotiate with Phra Thattacheewo and trying to boost understanding, Maj Suriya said, adding even he had been refused a meeting with the deputy abbot.
The negotiations have failed, which means this process has come to end, he said.
Maj Suriya said officials will now pursue further steps in line with the law.
“Those who want to come out of the temple have to gather at Gate 7, where officials will take them out of the temple and send them back to their home towns,” said Maj Suriya.
DSI deputy spokesman Woranan Srilam said Maj Suriya had reported to DSI Director-General Paisit Wongmuang that the negotiations were unsuccessful and there would be no further talks.
He said the DSI chief then ordered officials to follow through with its operation plan in full force.
The operation involves more than 4,000 police, army and DSI officials who have been deployed to surround the temple.
Maj Woranan said the force would move into the temple’s compound, trying to avoid violence, noting the operation would start with light and proceed to tougher measures.
If officials face resistance, talks will be given priority, but if this measure fails, those who impede officials will be taken out and face prosecution, he said.
Authorities also have a plan to deal with possible injuries, said Maj Woranan.
“The steps of the search cannot be revealed and we cannot say when it will end,” said Maj Woranan.
In the afternoon, Maj Suriya monitored around 600 temple followers chanting prayers at Klong Luang market opposite the temple’s Gate 5.
The disciples expressed dissatisfaction at being observed, which prompted military officers to intervene to maintain order.
Maj Suriya said it was reported that outsiders had also joined the gathering of temple followers and an investigation will be carried out regarding the issue.
Lt Gen Chanthep Sesawej, Chief of Provincial Police Region 1, said officials placed containers at Wat Phra Dhammakaya’s Gate 8 and 9 to block temple followers from entering the compound.
Officials also set up screening checkpoints at Gates 7 and 8, where temple followers would be allowed to leave the compound.
At 5pm, an unidentified drone was hovering over Gate 7, leading DSI officials to cut its signal and bring it to the ground. Officials were examining it to determine who it belongs to.
Temple followers released a statement condemning the DSI for abusing its power by trying to seize the temple.
They said the DSI officials carried out a three-day search from last Thursday and concluded they could not find Phra Dhammajayo. They claimed the officials already knew that the former abbot had left the temple.
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