The theft of a large number of weapons from an Army arsenal in Phatthalung may be an "inside job" and officials were trying to determine if the stolen arms were destined for insurgents in the far South or the red shirts, government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday.
Weapons disappeared recently from the 4th Army Engineering Battalion, and a police complaint was filed last Thursday.
"Based on how the theft happened, the culprits must be very familiar with the arsenal," Panitan said.
The government has already instructed all military units to tighten arsenal security after the Phatthalung theft and to report any similar attempts near Bangkok, he said.
An investigation into the theft was still in progress and no conclusion had been made, Internal Security Operations Command spokesman Maj General Ditthaporn Sasasamit said.
Based on evidence uncovered thus far, the theft might have been carried out or aided by rogue soldiers deployed at the arsenal, he said.
It was too early to speculate whether the stolen weapons might be used to instigate violence at the red-shirt rally.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he was waiting for 4th Army Region commander Lt General Pichet Visaijorn to submit a report on the theft.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the authorities had yet to determine where the stolen weapons might turn up.
Red-shirt leader Natthawut Saikua said the stolen weapons included M-67 grenades - the same type of bombs lobbed at four Bangkok Bank branches last month.
Natthawut voiced suspicion that the military had staged the incident in order to avoid responsibility for the grenades and have a ready pretext to pin blame on the red shirts for any bomb attacks.
Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit said the stolen weapons coincided with a government publicity campaign to blame the red shirts for instigating violence.
Prompong called for a speedy inquiry into the theft. An unanswered question was whether the military may try to frame the red shirts, he said.