Police link seized arms cache to election protests
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Police link seized arms cache to election protests

The Crime Suppression Division displays a large cache of firearms and weapon parts that were seized from five suspects in several provinces. Tawatchai Kemgumnerd
The Crime Suppression Division displays a large cache of firearms and weapon parts that were seized from five suspects in several provinces. Tawatchai Kemgumnerd

Security authorities have arrested five people and seized a large number of firearms suspected of being part of a plot to stir up violence during the May 22 pro-election rally earlier this week.

Deputy police chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said the weapons which included rifles, assorted ammunition, grenades and gun parts were confiscated during an investigation into reports about the smuggling of firearms to instigate violence.

The deputy police chief said the arrests and the seized weapons were not a set-up, adding the confiscated firearms were just one-third of a weapon cache scattered in various locations which the police are trying to find.

The suspects were identified as Wichan Rakchart, 34, Prakhongsri Siriman, 39, Winas Prikpet, 34, Praditthong Chaipanha, 58, and Sombat Kaewsuk, 29. They were arrested at various locations with illegal firearms and weapon parts in their possession.

They were handed over to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) by Col Burin Thongprapai, a legal officer attached to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), apparently after being questioned by military officials.

According to Pol Gen Srivara, the confiscation of the arms cache came after authorities were alerted to the smuggling of weapons which could be used to stir up violence especially during the protests by pro-election activists.

The activists held their latest protest on March 22 to mark the fourth anniversary since the NCPO toppled the Pheu Thai Party-led administration in a military coup.

On Tuesday, police in Chiang Rai's Chiang Saen district seized about 10,000 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition from a car at a security checkpoint.

The follow-up investigation linked the items to Mr Wichan, one of the suspects.

Mr Wichan was arrested at a house in Ayutthaya's Tha Rua district where authorities found and seized a small number of firearms. He was charged with illegal possession of weapons.

The extended investigation led authorities to the arrests of Ms Prakhongsri in Sao Hai district of Saraburi and Mr Winas in Ban Mo district in the same province. Seized from their possession included five M26A grenades, 4,500 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition, and three pistols.

Mr Praditthong and Mr Sombat were arrested later and were found to have weapons in their possession.

Mr Wichan told investigators that he purchased the weapons from a supplier via a mobile chat application and sold the items to the other four suspects over the past few months.

Pol Gen Srivara said the suspects denied any connections with hardcore red-shirt members, but insisted intelligence information suggested the weapons were destined for use to instigate violence in anti-regime protests.

Citing information from bomb specialists, he said the seized grenades shared serial numbers with those used in violent attacks during the red-shirt political protests of 2010.

He also said police were stepping up surveillance of hardcore red-shirt activists.

Following the press conference, Mr Wichan, Mr Winas and Ms Prakhongsri were taken by helicopter to Chiang Rai for questioning.

Meanwhile, Tida Tawornseth, leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), yesterday slammed police for linking the weapons cache to red-shirt members.

She said police were making empty accusations against the UDD and she expected them to handle the investigation in a professional manner.

Ms Tida said a justice process not handled carefully could lead people to think they want to magnify the situation. "Why did they have to link it to the May 22 rally?" she said.

"Police in charge of the case should be careful. They should not exploit the situation," she added.

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