Cops nab five 'men in black' suspects

Cops nab five 'men in black' suspects

Masterminds will be found, Somchai says

The arrest of five so-called "men in black" allegedly involved in the killing of soldiers and civilians during political unrest in 2010 could lead to the identification of those responsible for masterminding the violence, a National Legislative Assembly member has predicted. 

Somchai Sawaengkarn told the Bangkok Post yesterday that the apprehension of the suspects has confirmed the notorious "men in black" did exist. They are accused of using war weapons to carry out attacks during the political turmoil.

Four so-called 'men in black' suspects are brought before the media during a police press conference yesterday. From left: Kittisak Soomsri, Preecha Yuyen, Ronnarit Suricha and Chamnan Phakeechai. The fifth suspect, a woman named Punika Chusri, is not shown. Apichit Jinakul

Until the current government took office, no one in power had ever accepted the existence of the "men in black" or properly investigated them, he said.

Mr Somchai headed up an Upper House subcommittee charged with investigating clashes between red-shirt protesters and military officers near Democracy Monument during his previous role as a senator.

Police yesterday named the five suspects believed to be the "men in black". Three are Bangkok residents: Kittisak Soomsri, 45, Chamnan Phakeechai, 45, and Punika Chusri, 39. The other two are Preecha Yuyen, 24, from Chiang Mai and Ronnarit Suricha, 33, from Ubon Ratchathani.

They were taken into custody on Tuesday but the arrests were only made public yesterday. They have all been charged with illegally carrying and using guns, bullets and bombs.

Arrest warrants have also been issued for Thanadet Ek-apiwat, 39, of Bangkok's Laksi district, and Watthanachoke Chinpui, 23, of Chon Daen district in Phetchabun province, said deputy national police chief Gen Somyot Phumpanmuang.

Pol Gen Somyot said the five suspects have admitted involvement in the violence that led to the killing of soldiers near Democracy Monument in April 2010.

The five suspects were presented to the media wearing black outfits with red armbands. Pol Gen Somyot said they were dressed up to reenact how they might have appeared during the political violence.

The arrests show that the "men in black" were real, despite their existence becoming shrouded in mystery as people on both sides of the conflict blamed a number of shootings and bomb attacks on the "shady" figures, he said.

Five soldiers were killed in an April 10, 2010 clash as they moved to clear protest sites at Khok Wua intersection, Tanao Road and areas around Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok. Among the dead was senior army officer Col Romklao Thuwatham. Col Romklao was posthumously promoted to general.

The clash at the Khok Wua intersection claimed the lives of 21 others including one Reuters journalist.

Mr Somchai said he believes the police could unearth clues leading to the arrest of other suspects if they start making a serious effort to investigate the matter.

"Since the change of government, I believe the investigation will widen and uncover the real mastermind and others behind the killings," Mr Somchai said.

Pol Gen Somyot said a man named Jakkarin Ruangsakwichit is thought to have been controlling the five suspects. Mr Jakkarin is subject to an arrest warrant issued by Saraburi Military Court.

The officer said police had previously raided a house belonging to red-shirt activist Kritsuda Khunasen and found clear evidence relating to the transfer of large sums of money to the five suspects, although he declined to reveal how much. 

Ms Kritsuda has claimed she was tortured during military detention earlier this year. Ms Kritsuda was arrested in Chon Buri for refusing to report to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) after it summoned her on suspicion of involvement in computer crime and weapons-related charges.

Human Rights Watch alleges she was secretly detained without charge at a military camp from May 27 until June 24. After her release, she appeared in a YouTube video saying the military tortured her to make her implicate deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in firearms offences. She is now said to be seeking political asylum in Europe.

Pol Gen Somyot said the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is currently responsible for handling the case involving the 2010 political violence. The Royal Thai Police will ask to help investigate the case.

DSI director-general Pol Gen Chatchawal Suksomjit said that the department is treating the killing of Gen Romklao as a special case. He said the DSI will ask the police to keep the five suspects in custody and send its investigators to assist in the case.

Nicha Thuwatham, the wife of Gen Romklao, yesterday thanked the NCPO and police for their efforts to arrest the suspects allegedly involved in the killing of her husband. In a statement posted on Facebook, she said the investigation will help restore public confidence in the justice system.

Thanawut Wichaidit, spokesman for the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), said the group has never believed that the "men in black" existed. Police must do more to prove their existence, he said, adding that the UDD has never resorted to violence. 

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