Choppers scour peaks for fugitive

Choppers scour peaks for fugitive

Escaped convict is 'in mountain base'

Three helicopters have been deployed to fly over the Banthad mountain range as police surrounded mountainous areas in four provinces yesterday to track down escaped prisoner Chaowalit Thongduang following Wednesday's shootout.

Chaowalit, alias Sia Paeng Nanod, managed to flee after he traded rounds with police on Wednesday in his mountainous hideout in Trang province. He and his armed bodyguards reportedly fled towards the eastern side of the mountain range.

On Wednesday, media reports said Chaowalit had been shot dead in the exchange of gunfire with police. However, senior officers insisted it was not the case.

Chaowalit, 37, was serving time for attempted murder. He faces multiple other criminal charges, including murder.

He fled from Maharat Nakhon Si Thammarat Hospital on Oct 22 after having been taken there for dental treatment, where he was admitted after collapsing and claiming he had severe leg pains. Despite being restrained to the bed and wearing leg chains, he escaped overnight.

Seven people were arrested on suspicion of helping him. Three warders also face arrest warrants for dereliction of duty in connection with the prisoner's escape.

Pol Gen Thana Chuwong, the acting deputy national police chief, yesterday held a meeting with police and concerned agencies at the Don Tae forest protection unit in Palian district of Trang to follow up on the situation and draw up measures to track down the fugitive.

Pol Gen Thana said Chaowalit was believed to be hiding in the mountain range, and he hoped he would surrender.

There is a high possibility Chaowalit is armed with automatic weapons, he said.

The prisoner was alerted to the police presence by a barking dog at his temporary abode and managed to flee in time, said the acting deputy police chief. He said he believed some people helped the prisoner escape.

The Hanuman police task force was deployed yesterday to support the police operation.

Teams of police surrounded the four provinces of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, Satun and Trang.

The Royal Thai Police Office deployed three helicopters to search for the prisoner. Officers found one M4 carbine believed to belong to Chaowalit dropped in a forested area, but there was no sign of the convict.

Pol Maj Gen Piyawat Chalermsri, deputy commissioner of the Provincial Police Region 9, said Chaowalit opened fire first when seeing police approaching his hideout as his dog barked. Both sides exchanged fire before the fugitive fled.

A search of the shelter found a power generator, suggesting Chaowalit had been well prepared for his escape, said Pol Maj Gen Piyawat.

National police chief Pol Gen Torsak Sukvimol yesterday urged his family and those close to Chaowalit to persuade the convict to surrender if he made contact.

Police do not want to resort to violence as that would likely lead to loss of life, the national police said, adding his officers have to follow the relevant legal procedures if fired upon.

The fugitive and his men were armed with war weapons and more than 600 rounds of ammunition, said Pol Gen Torsak.

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