Regime targets 'dark influence'

Regime targets 'dark influence'

Task force raids Pheu Thai politicians' homes

Police display various types of firearms confiscated during a crackdown on 'dark influence' in Samut Prakan. Several licenced items belong to Pheu Thai politician Pracha Prasopdee but authorities confiscated them to see if they had been used in any crimes. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
Police display various types of firearms confiscated during a crackdown on 'dark influence' in Samut Prakan. Several licenced items belong to Pheu Thai politician Pracha Prasopdee but authorities confiscated them to see if they had been used in any crimes. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

A combined force of police and soldiers on Thursday raided 13 locations, including the homes of two senior Pheu Thai politicians in Samut Prakan, seizing firearms which all turned out to be licenced.

The raids were part of the government's crackdown on mafia-type figures.

Authorities insisted the raids were in line with the regime's order authorising nationwide action against people wielding "dark influence".

The homes of Pheu Thai politicians Worachai Hema in Muang district and Pracha Prasopdee in Phra Pradaeng and Phra Samut Chedi districts of Samut Prakan were targeted.

Samut Prakan is known to be a support base of the Pheu Thai Party and red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

Both Mr Worachai and Mr Pracha were charged with illegal possession of radio communication equipment, police said.

Mr Worachai was also charged with illegal possession of ammunition.

Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, who led the operation, said the crackdown was not politically motivated.

The raids involved more than 100 police officers from the Metropolitan Police Bureau and soldiers from the 2nd and 9th infantry regiments. They came after Mr Worachai criticised Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

About 50 soldiers and police turned up at Mr Worachai's house but the politician was not at home at the time. They were greeted by his son, Piyapong, who told the authorities his parents were away in Chiang Mai.

The media were barred from entering the house during the search. Security cameras at the house were allegedly removed, footage erased and people in the house told not to take pictures or use phones.

Authorities seized two 9mm bullets, 16 CDs involving political protests and one communication radio.

The operation triggered rumours that the military had come to take Mr Worachai away for further "attitude adjustment". The politician was taken into military custody in late March after criticising the charter draft.

In a media interview later, Mr Worachai said the authorities removed security cameras and told the people in the house to leave during the search. He denied possessing any firearms.

"I'm not an influential figure. I'm running [legitimate] businesses. I don't use weapons. Don't force them on me. I'm not mafia. I don't need a weapon," he said, referring to photos of seized firearms and ammunition.

Authorities searched two homes of Mr Pracha -- one in Phra Pradaeng district and the other in Phra Samut Chedi district. The ex-deputy interior minister was home when authorities showed up at his Phra Pradaeng house.

Seized during the search were 11 guns of various types, all of which were properly registered and a communication radio. The firearms would be examined to see if they were used in any crimes, police said.

At the Phra Samut Chedi house, officials confiscated 12 rounds of 9mm ammunition, a shotgun cartridge and a radio communication device.

Authorities also raided the house of Sombat Thongyoi in Bang Phli district and seized a BB gun, an ID card for a UDD security guard, four CDs of UDD rallies, three radio communication devices, and two mobile phones.

Mr Sombat was accused of being involved in the killing of Sutin Tharatin, a core leader of the People's Democratic Force to Overthrow Thaksinism, an ally of the now-dissolved People's Democratic Reform Committee.

Sutin was leading the protesters to block advance voting at a polling station at Wat Sri Iam in Bang Na on Jan 26, 2014 when a clash took place. About 10 other people were injured in the attack.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon defended the operation in Samut Prakan, saying authorities were responding to tip-offs in the crackdown on dark influence.

Gen Prawit insisted the authorities did not single out any individuals and the crackdown had nothing to do with Mr Worachai's recent criticism of the regime.

The minister said more such raids should be expected and he has no idea when and where the next ones will take place.

Gen Prawit assured the crackdown on dark influence and vice will not be used to silence or intimidate the government's critics.

Also Thursday, National Council for Peace and Order spokesman Piyapong Klinpan lambasted Pheu Thai's Watana Muangsook for distorting information and accusing the military of detaining villagers for attitude adjustment.

He said the villagers were not taken into custody but came to see authorities to give information about how they were duped by a group of politicians.

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