PATHUM THANI — The deadline for non-resident monks of the controversial Dhammakaya Temple to leave the premises by 3pm Sunday came and went without any attempt made by the authorities to enforce it.
In fact, the Department of Special Investigation, or DSI, which issued the order just several hours ago, said it will begin to pull back its forces from the perimeter around the sect’s headquarters in Pathum Thani following clashes with worshipers and monks who not only refused to leave the premises as instructed, but also rushed into the temple in droves.
“There were minor confrontations between people and officials on duty in the areas,” DSI spokesman Woranan Srilam told reporters Sunday afternoon. “Right now the commanding officers have instructed officials to withdraw first, so that we can adjust our operation.”
Col. Woranan added, “In our operation, we will avoid clashes as much as possible.”
During the short-lived order, the DSI, which is leading the prosecution of the temple’s spiritual leader on charges of money laundering, said everyone except monks who have residence in Wat Dhammakaya must leave the complex by 3pm, at the maximum penalty of one year in prison if they refuse.
The DSI has been searching Dhammakaya Temple since Thursday to look for its former abbot, 72-year-old Dhammachayo, who’s accused of receiving millions of baht in donations that were embezzled from a cooperative union. On Sunday the DSI said officials were hindered by worshipers who continued to linger in the temple and so instructed them to leave.
In response, hundreds of Dhammakaya supporters and monks who have been camping and praying close to Gate 5 of the temple compound rushed through the police line and entered the temple in defiance of the DSI order.
Dantamano Bhikkhu, a monk-spokesman of the temple, said via a private online message that temple leaders have yet to conclude a formal response to the situation.
DSI spokesman Woranan did not say when security force will return to conduct the search of Dhammakaya Temple.
“We withdraw our forces so that we can evaluate the situation and adjust our operation,” he said. “If there’s any development, we will inform the public.”
All previous attempts by the DSI to enter the temple and search for the fugitive former abbot eventually came to an end after security officers encountered resistance from the temple supporters. DSI officials said their priority is to avoid any possible bloodshed.
Former abbot Dhammachayo has not been seen in public since he was charged in June.
The latest effort to locate by the DSI took place Thursday after the junta declared the area a “controlled zone,” granting security officers authority to search buildings, make arrests and cut off any water or electricity supply as they see fit.
The temple denied the allegations of money laundering against Dhammachayo.
Leaders of the Dhammakaya sect also maintain that the elderly former abbot is too ill to meet with the police to discuss the charges, and deny any knowledge of his whereabouts.