Police endure in prolonged search for monk

Police endure in prolonged search for monk

Officers focus on the mission but miss their families as the hunt continues

More than 4,000 security forces including border patrol police (above) have been watching the Dhammakaya sect's temple in Pathum Thani for almost three weeks. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
More than 4,000 security forces including border patrol police (above) have been watching the Dhammakaya sect's temple in Pathum Thani for almost three weeks. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

The operation to search for Phra Dhammajayo at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, which has lasted 18 days, is piling up tensions on the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) which is now confronting fierce opposition from supporters of the elusive monk.

It is also making some police officers, especially those attached with units in other provinces but deployed to support the DSI's mission in Pathum Thani, consider the days and nights they have spent near the temple without seeing their families.

Though the officers, who have recently talked to the Bangkok Post, did not exactly say they feel homesick, they did admit they cannot help thinking of their loved ones while working far away from their homes on five-day shifts.

An officer from a police station in Nonthaburi, who did not want to be named, has already worked for three shifts, and when asked to describe his feelings during this tense situation, he said suddenly: "I miss my wife and children."

His life changed in the weeks after he and many other police officers were assigned to team up with the DSI. Instead of going between his home and workplace as well as familiar areas under his supervision in Nonthaburi, the officer has to stand guard at the fourth or the fifth gates of Wat Phra Dhammakaya by day and sleep at nearby temples at night. However, the officer said he understands it is a police officer's duty and has never viewed the assignment as taking a real toll. Yet, he commented, "I hope it [the DSI's operation] ends soon."

The more serious search for Phra Dhammajayo, the temple's former abbot wanted on money laundering and forest encroachment charges, began on Feb 16 after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha decided to exercise Section 44 under the interim charter to announce Wat Phra Dhammakaya and nearby areas a "specially controlled area" for "effective law enforcement", according to Gen Prayut's order published in the Royal Gazette.

Several thousand officers from the DSI, police and military were then ordered to join the operation. Their numbers peaked to nearly 5,000 in order to tighten security after one of the monks opposing the search was seen snatching a camera from a female DSI officer. The numbers were later reduced to hundreds as the situation calmed down.

At present, between two and three companies of police, or less than 450 officers, are regularly stationed near Wat Phra Dhammakaya.

Yet what seems to be a "war of numbers" continues. As officials maintain their forces in many spots in the area, including nearby Khlong Luang central market which is currently used as a protest site, opponents are reportedly preparing to extend their rally to another market belonging to Sorawan Sirisuntarin, known as "Pa Cheng", who, in 2010, faced complaints against her controversial miracle products, made of herbs which she claimed could cure many ailments. The woman was summoned over an accusation that she allowed the protesters to use part of her market, said deputy DSI spokesman Pol Maj Woranan Silam on Sunday.

A recent search on an area where Ms Sorawan uses to store her products found 14 piles of shading nets and tools such as pliers and wires. Officials also detained suspected migrant workers, eight novice monks and two monks they found in the market for questioning.

One of the two monks is Phra Sathian who came from a temple in Ubon Ratchathani. The DSI found that the monk carried his bank account with him with savings worth 13 million baht. The Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) is inspecting his assets to determine whether it is linked with Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Pol Maj Woranan said.

Pa Cheng's market, which is also located in Khlong Luang district, is the latest place that has come under the spotlight as the DSI continues to struggle to curb the number of protesting monks and Phra Dhammajayo supporters at the Khlong Luang central market.

Pol Maj Woranan said Khlong Luang central market is considered a "sensitive" area, so the DSI is using the announcement of Pathum Thani chief monk, Phra Thep Rattanasuthee, to ask Wat Phra Dhammakaya monks to return to the temple and other monks to come back to their temples in other provinces.

Officials have also summoned Athit Phromma, who oversees the market to report to the DSI this Thursday, he added.

So far only nine of 62 summoned monks and laymen have shown up.

At present, the DSI cannot completely control the number of Wat Phra Dhammakaya's supporters at Khlong Luang central market. On Sunday, more than 2,000 of them gathered there to offer food to monks as the temple held its traditional ceremony to "offer food to the Lord Buddha".

The department will continue its search for Phra Dhammajayo, setting the 100 Years Building, also known as Globe Building, in the temple as one of its next targets.

"But we have no idea whether Luang Pho [Phra Dhammajayo] is still in the temple," said a police officer from Prachuap Khiri Khan.

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