Thai junta prepares 'full-scale' raid on temple

Monks from the controversial temple collecting morning alms outside the compound as soldiers stand guard.
Monks from the controversial temple collecting morning alms outside the compound as soldiers stand guard.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Thailand's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has ordered a "full-scale" raid on the controversial Dhammakaya temple after the breakdown of negotiations with senior monks.

DSI director-general Paisit Wongmuang, who is leading the operations to arrest the temple's former abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, said that more officers would be deployed to the area.

The new development has prompted temple devotees to release a statement questioning the junta's agenda in ordering the search for Dhammachayo, who is facing criminal charges for allegedly receiving 1.2 billion baht (S$48.6 million) of embezzled money and building a meditation centre on public land. He said that he ignored the summons because he was ill.

"The rationale given by DSI to search the temple to arrest Ven Dhammachayo is not 100 per cent accurate," the devotees' statement said. "The main reason is to destroy Wat Phra Dhammakaya."

Last week, about 3,000 police officers surrounded the temple, located on a massive estate north of Bangkok. They have been there ever since.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that the order to put the controversial temple under military control will not be revoked until the fugitive former abbot surrenders. "I confirm that I won't cancel the order because this case has not yet ended and the alleged wrongdoer has yet to be brought to justice," he said.

The special decree, known as Section 44, allows officials to arrest the monk, who reportedly fled before the police swooped down on the 405ha complex.

Yesterday, pictures of monks going on a hunger strike to protest against the search order circulated on social media.

The Dhammakaya temple has millions of followers, including those with links to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006.

The temple claims to have 80 branches in at least 33 countries, including the United States, Canada and Singapore.

In a separate development involving the military, Thailand's army has reached a breakthrough pact with a Muslim separatist group to create a safety zone in the restive southern provinces, Reuters reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Thai junta prepares 'full-scale' raid on temple'. Print Edition | Subscribe