Prawit vows no let-up in search of temple

Prawit vows no let-up in search of temple

Monks and followers of Wat Phra Dhammakaya gather just outside the temple at Talat Klang Klong Luang to try to prevent authorities from retaking the market area they occupy. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
Monks and followers of Wat Phra Dhammakaya gather just outside the temple at Talat Klang Klong Luang to try to prevent authorities from retaking the market area they occupy. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has insisted the Section 44 order will not be lifted until after officials have conducted a thorough search of the entire complex of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, no matter how long it takes.

If necessary, the search, which aims to arrest the temple's former abbot, Phra Dhammajayo, who is wanted on several arrest warrants, will continue for a year, Gen Prawit said.

When the entire complex of the temple has been searched and if the former abbot still cannot be found, the public will then be allowed back in again, he added.

"The search will continue no matter how many more weeks or even if a year passes. Authorities are trying to avoid violent confrontations. But it is necessary to continue to enforce the law," Gen Prawit said.

Meanwhile, confrontations between monks, temple disciples and officials continued yesterday.

Hundreds of monks prevented soldiers from entering Wat Phra Dhammakaya to renew the hunt for Phra Dhammajayo yesterday morning.

About 6.45am, around 50 soldiers removed barricades at Gate 1, which leads to the Boon Raksa building and the temple's main hall. They were confronted by monks and laymen, and brief pushing and shoving ensued.

About 9am, lines of some 300 monks and followers marched toward the soldiers, forcing them to retreat. The troops withdrew from the temple compound and reassembled at their checkpoint on Liab Khlong Sam Road, avoiding any further confrontation.

Police also detained six monks and 22 laymen near the Boon Raksa building near Gate 4, taking them away for questioning after they obstructed the search.

After being questioned, the 22 laymen were released when they promised not to return to the temple during the hunt, police said.

Officials from the National Office of Buddhism were also called in to talk to the monks. Of the six monks, three were found to be residents of Wat Phra Dhammakaya while the other three were from the provinces of Uttaradit and Kanchanaburi.

The monks were asked to cooperate with authorities and stop obstructing the search.

Afterwards, the three Wat Phra Dhammakaya monks were allowed back into the temple while the other three were told to go back to their provinces.

Phra Sanitwong Wuthiwangso, director of the temple's communications office, said the temple's followers did not want the search to be carried out. The brief clash in the early morning had left some followers injured, he said. He also said temple followers were gathering evidence to submit to the United Nations over the Section 44 order, issued under the interim charter, following the clash between temple devotees and officials at Gate 5 of the temple on Monday, which left several people hurt.

The clash took place as officials of the Department of Special Investigation and police were enforcing the Section 44 order, which designates the temple as a restricted zone, to search the temple for its former abbot.

Authorities entered the temple grounds on Feb 16 to search the 2,300-rai complex in Klong Luang district for Phra Dhammajayo after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha invoked Section 44 to enable the hunt.

The search aims to arrest Phra Dhammajayo, who is wanted on several arrest warrants for allegedly laundering money and receiving stolen assets in connection with the multi-billion-baht embezzlement of the Klongchan Credit Union Co-operative.

His temple's meditation centres also allegedly encroach on forest reserves in Loei, Nakhon Ratchasima and Phangnga provinces.

A group of Wat Dhammakaya followers calling themselves Araya 072 gathered Thursday at Talat Klang Klong Luang market outside Gates 5 and 6 of the temple to protest against the Section 44 order.

Aye Phetthong, who represents the group, called on the government to revoke the order which he said has an adverse impact on the country's image.

He also admitted some people who are key figures from the "yellow-shirt and red-shirt groups" had entered the grounds of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, but only to "protect Buddhism".

Two of the seven monks who started a hunger strike outside the temple opposing the Section 44 order on Wednesday called it off on Thursday. The remaining monks said they will continue with the protest until the order has been revoked.

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