Prisoner Chaowalit Thongduang, alias Sia Paeng Nanod, was involved in a shootout with police on Wednesday in his mountainous hideout in Trang, where he had fled after his escape on Oct 22.
It has not yet been confirmed whether Chaowalit was killed in the exchange of gunfire or not.
Investigators from Provincial Police regions 8 and 9 and national park rangers surrounded Nai Tra village in the Banthad mountain range in Palian district on Wednesday morning.
Authorities believed Chaowalit was hiding in the remote village of about 300 households. The mountain range covers three provinces of Phatthalung, Trang and Satun.
The area consists largely of rubber plantations and forest, and mobile signals are spotty.
As officers approached the area where they believed the escapee was hiding, an exchange of gunfire erupted, Thai media reported.
Chaowalit, 37, was serving time for attempted murder and faced multiple other criminal charges, including murder.
He fled from Maharat Nakhon Si Thammarat Hospital on Oct 22. He had been taken there for dental treatment and was subsequently admitted after collapsing, claiming he had severe leg pains. Despite being restrained to the bed and wearing leg chains, he escaped overnight.
Before the clash, police arrested a man known as “Bang Khiew”, who admitted he had climbed down from the mountain to get food for the escapee. He was due to deliver food to Chaowalit on Wednesday. This prompted police to zero in on the village.
Earlier media reports said Chaowalit had been shot dead in the clash. However, senior police insisted this was not true.
Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong also said there was no confirmation that the prisoner was shot dead.
Pol Lt Gen Ittiphol Atchariyapradit, acting assistant national police chief, said the shootout lasted more than 2 hours.
After the gunfire, officers seized one M16 rifle, one HK rifle, a 9mm pistol and more than 600 rounds of ammunition.
The officers do not yet know how many men were with the prisoner and they continue to surround the hideout, said Pol Lt Gen Ittiphol.
Pol Gen Thana Chuwong, acting deputy national police chief, and Pol Maj Gen Piyawat Chalermsri, acting Provincial Police Region 9 commissioner, also confirmed that Chaowalit had not yet been shot dead.
The two arrived at the clash scene in a helicopter.
Chaowalit was sentenced to 20 years and six months in prison last year by the Phatthalung Provincial Court for attempted murder in connection with an armed attack on police during an attempted abduction on Sept 2, 2019, in the southern province.
He began serving his sentence at Phatthalung Prison in January 2022 and was transferred to Nakhon Si Thammarat Prison on Aug 7 this year.