A SENIOR Department of Special Investigation (DSI) official has been appointed as new chief of the National Office of Buddhism amid a tense stand-off between authorities and the controversial Dhammakaya Temple, which has dragged on for over a week.
National Office of Buddhism director-general Pranom Sonsill was replaced yesterday by Pongporn Parmsneh, director of the DSI’s Bureau of Taxation Crime, in the latest order issued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha under power given to him by the post-coup interim charter.
The order appointed Pranom as a special inspector attached to the PM’s Office, which in effect sidelines him.
General Prayut issued the order yesterday in his capacity as head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The order was also published in the Royal Gazette yesterday.
A source familiar with the matter said the changes at the NOB could result from Pranom’s failure to help the government arrest the temple’s former abbot Phra Dhammachayo, who is wanted for money laundering and accepting stolen assets.
Pongporn, a former police officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel, was involved in talks with monks for Dhammachayo to surrender.
Earlier, Pranom said his agency had urged monks nationwide not to participate in the rally organised by Dhammakaya Temple. He said his office had asked supervising monks in all provinces to cooperate. The move came after reports that monks had gone to the temple from other areas.
Pranom said his agency would also make sure no “fake monks” were among demonstrators at the temple.
Earlier, temple personnel warned that a third party and men dressed as monks might attempt to create unrest to try to legitimise use of force against the temple.
Also yesterday, DSI sought help from the top Buddhist council in its attempt to arrest Dhammachayo, a source said. The move is the agency’s latest bid to try to manage dealings with the Temple, where monks and supporters have defied search and arrest warrants in recent days.
The DSI source did not reveal details of what help the agency was seeking from the Sangha Supreme Council, but said discussions were underway and the results may be known in a few days.
The temple’s core leaders have refused to talk to the DSI, so the agency thought it may be better for the temple’s monks to discuss the situation with their superiors on the Sangha Council, the source said.
Some members of the Council were previously believed to have close ties with the temple, the source said, but at that time a new Supreme Patriarch had not been appointed. But the situation seems to be changing now that the new Supreme Patriarch is in office.
DSI officials and police have tried several times to enter the temple’s compound to arrest Dhammachayo.
Yesterday was the 10th day since the scandal-hit temple was declared a controlled area, under a junta order imposed via the interim charter’s all-powerful Article 44. The DSI started cutting phone and Internet signals in and around the temple area on Friday.
DSI deputy spokesman Woranan Srilum called on temple monks yesterday not to “hold its followers hostage” by pitting them against authorities in a bid to put pressure on the agencies involved. He said the authorities were exercising utmost tolerance in dealing with the case.
“We can conduct searches at any time inside the temple because we have authority to do so. But we want to avoid possible clashes and any inappropriate incident,” Woranan said.
“We call on the temple not to hold its supporters hostage,” he said.
A Dhammakaya monk leader yesterday encouraged followers to be calm and not panic over reports that the DSI had cut off all Internet and mobile signals at the temple.
Phra Sanit Wuttiwangso, temple communication director, urged the followers to download “App Fire Chat” to communicate among themselves.
The spokesman wrote on Facebook that an Internet link was needed to download the app, not to use it.
Cutting off Internet and mobile signals affected signals for about 500 metres around the temple.
The temple’s core group, notably Phra Sanit Wuttiwangso, has been active in using social networks to counter officials that want to search the temple.
He said they could still communicate through the smartphone application “Fire Chat”, a free messaging service that works without an Internet link or cellphone cover.
He urged people to live normal lives and continue fighting to protect their faith, while temple people would |figure out how to live when deprived of liberty and limited in transport, food and communication, and overcome this hardship.
Dhammakaya monks remained defiant yesterday despite the DSI move to cut phone and Internet |signals at the temple.
But yesterday the DSI allowed temple disciples to transport four trucks of food into the compound via Gate 7.
In the morning, many disciples and Army officers also offered alms – dry food – to Dhammakaya monks at Klong Luang Central Market. A |portion of such alms offerings would also be sent to monks in four |southern border provinces.