Authorities deny operation was a raid as pm urges cautious approach to avoid casualties or instability
ABOUT 500 POLICE yesterday removed obstacles placed on public land blocking access to the controversial Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani’s Klong Luang district, while temple disciples continued to enter the temple via gates five and six.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and senior police said there would not be a raid on the temple during New Year celebrations.
Prayut said the arrest and prosecution of the fugitive former abbot Phra Dhammachayo would be conducted in due time, adding that the media and the public should not rush authorities.
Dhammachayo is wanted for alleged money laundering in connection to the embezzlement of billions of baht from Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC), as well as on other charges.
Crowd-control police manned most of the gates to the 2,000-rai (320-hectare) temple yesterday afternoon and cleared obstacles such as tents and metal fences from the road near the fifth gate.
A lawyer for the temple said staff would remove obstacles near the fifth gate but police insisted on performing the task.
However, police asked temple staff to remove tents and fill in a hole in the road near the tenth gate.
Temple lawyer Suthee Chuaybumrung initially told officers that work at the 10th gate was not possible given the building of a new hospital in the compound, which is still going on, and he didn’t know when the work would be completed. However, after two hours of negotiations, temple staff agreed to fill in the hole.
Many disciples praying at tents near the 10th gate were reportedly wearing hats and covering their faces.
In a major development in the stand-off on Monday, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission agreed to revoke the satellite TV broadcasting licence of the Dhammakaya Media Channel when the channel’s 30-day suspension ends on January 7.
‘Reclaiming public space’
On the same day, the temple’s acting abbot Phra Witesphawanajahn turned himself in at Klong Luang Police Station to face 13 charges including sheltering Dhammachayo, who is now the temple’s “honorary abbot”.
The fugitive monk is believed to be in the temple, with authorities focusing on the Daowadeung Building, where temple staff have said the monk is living while recuperating from various illnesses.
Deputy national police chief Pol General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said the police operation yesterday reclaimed public spaces and did not constitute a raid or pressure on Dhammachayo to surrender.
Srivara said police were dispatched to the area at 5am to remove obstacles in the two areas following a complaint from the Pathum Thani Provincial Treasury Office.
He said the action followed an order by national police chief Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda for police to enforce the law, adding that he had told officers to avoid clashing with temple supporters and to maintain an orderly situation.
Srivara said he planned to inspect the operation’s progress later yesterday, but it did not have a specific deadline.
Srivara said police were responding to complaints about alleged illegal buildings at the compound and gathering evidence against the temple’s lawyer and others who had said the buildings were legal on charges of filing false information via computer.
The DSI holds an arrest warrant for Dhammachayo on charges of money laundering in connection with the KCUC embezzlement case, while the monk has refused to turn himself in, citing ill health.
He also faces arrest warrants in relation to alleged forest encroachment in Nakhon Ratchasima and Loei.
DSI chief Pol Colonel Paisit Wongmuang said the police operation yesterday was possibly covered by a police search warrant while his agency had not yet reapplied for a search warrant. He said DSI officials were only there to back up police.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said officers would proceed in accordance with the law and take advantage of opportunities as they arose.
He added that there was no deadline on the operation’s conclusion and authorities were being careful not to provoke a situation in which people at the compound could be injured, which would harm the country’s reputation.