Focus shifts away from negotiations as monks refuse search request.
A “FULL SCALE” raid by officials around Dhammakaya Temple was imminent after five hours of talks with the monastery’s senior monks broke down yesterday.
Department of Special Investigation (DSI) director-general Paisit Wongmuang has ordered police and DSI officers stationed around the vast compound in Pathum Thani to “carry out the plan of implementation in a full-scale manner”, the agency’s deputy spokesman Woranan Srilam said yesterday.
He said more government personnel would be deployed in the operation involving police, DSI and military officers but he declined to be specific about the number of officials.
Paisit is in charge of the operation to arrest the temple’s former abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, who is wanted for alleged money laundering and accepting stolen assets.
The spokesman said yesterday that it remained unclear when the operation would be completed. He added that authorities were concerned about the possible role of a “third party” and interference by political groups.
During five-hour talks yesterday, Dhammakaya’s vice abbot Phra Dattajivo, who is currently in charge of the temple, refused to allow officials to enter the compound in their hunt for Phra Dhammachayo.
Authorities were told that the temple’s monks were ready to cooperate but that Phra Dhammachayo’s followers did not want the search to continue. Hundreds of government personnel gathered at the temple’s main gates yesterday, with vehicles parked nearby, appearing ready for action.
DSI deputy director-general Suriya Singhakamol, who is in charge of the search, blamed Phra Dattajivo’s refusal to cooperate for the failure of yesterday’s talks between the temple and authorities.
He said that with the rejection by the temple, authorities needed to robustly enforce the law and conduct a thorough search of the temple compound.
As of yesterday, authorities have failed to find Phra Dhammachayo although they have been hunting for him in the current operation for seven days, searching different areas in the complex that spans more than 2,100 rai (336 hectares).
Suriya said dialogue channels would remain open although authorities would now focus on enforcing the law and entering the temple compound to conduct a thorough search.
He also dismissed a rumour that Phra Dhammachayo had agreed to turn himself in.
Article 44 order ‘illegitimate’
Dhammakaya Temple yesterday continued to call on the government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to revoke an NCPO order declaring the compound a “control area” and to end alleged violence against monks and lay people.
In a statement issued yesterday, the temple said the use of the interim charter’s Article 44 to issue the order was illegitimate because the temple had been cooperating with the search over a three-day period
The statement added that officers had signed a written document confirming the search, which meant the NCPO order should have been cancelled already.
However, because authorities continued to cordon off the temple – with anyone entering without permission facing up to one year in prison, a Bt20,000 fine or both – their behaviour amounted to harassment and human rights violations affecting many people, the statement said.
Temple officials also claimed authorities had used force against monks and lay people and called for all Buddhists to protect the religion.
The statement went on to say that Justice Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana, who has said he had received criticism about the case in night-time phone calls, should listen to people’s opinions 24 hours a day, adding the minister should thank those who posted messages inviting people to contact him.
The minister was also urged to listen to Buddhist scholars’ opinions as well as legal experts’.
Suwaphan and his wife’s phone numbers were posted on the personal Facebook page of Phra Sanitwong Chareonrattawong, the temple’s communication chief. The DSI and police were looking into the matter, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday, adding that Suwaphan would change his phone number.
Pathum Thani Governor Surachai Khan-asa yesterday ordered the transfer of six local administrative organisation officials in Klong Luang district on charges that they had failed to enforce the junta’s order to restrict access to the controversial temple.
The six were ordered to assume inactive posts at the Institute of Administration Development in Thanyaburi district.
Tha Khlong Municipality mayor Thai Thongprang, deputy mayor Pakorn Thongprang, Tambon Klong 3 Administrative Organisation president Weerasak Hadda, Tambon Klong 3 Administrative Organisation member Durian Poonpitak, Tambon Klong 3 kamnan Sathaporn Masap and Tambon Klong 3’s Ban Moo 7 village headman Weera Wongmangmee were accused of neglecting to enforce the NCPO order declaring the temple a controlled area.
In a separate development, a National Legislative Assembly (NLA) working group is studying a proposal to ban monks from accepting large amounts of money and accumulating wealth, Pichit Kuandechakupt, chairman of the NLA committee on religious affairs, arts, culture and tourism, said yesterday.
Pichit, however, added that there would be no amendment of the relevant law at the moment. He also maintained that the proposal had nothing to do with the ongoing Dhammakaya controversy.