Monks and police face off close to Gates 5 and 6 of Wat Dhammakaya on Monday.

PATHUM THANI — A police operation to search headquarters of the Dhammakaya sect and look for its fugitive spiritual leader met resistance on Monday, when monks and worshipers tried to push police forces out of their positions around the temple complex.

One person was reportedly injured in sporadic clashes between the two sides Monday morning. Police pledged to continue their siege and search for the 72-year-old former abbot Dhammachayo, who’s been charged with money laundering, while a temple spokesman decried the operation as inhumane.

The clashes took place at about 8am, when supporters of Wat Dhammakaya marched to push police cordons away from Gate 5 and 6 – a key entrance to the temple that officers had blocked since Thursday in their attempt to starve the temple of supplies and reinforcements.

Read: Dhammakaya Supporters Defy Order to Leave; DSI to Withdraw Forces

By 9am a woman was reportedly sent to hospital for injuries sustained during the shoving match. Gate 5 and 6 , which sit across from each other at the southern end of the complex, were in the hands of Dhammakaya supporters and monks when the confrontation was over, a lane connecting the two gates with the main road, Khlong Luang, was still blocked by phalanxes of riot police at the time of writing.

The twin gates have been a focal point in all previous standoff between police and Dhammakaya because they link the temple’s eastern complex with the rest of the compound to the west.

Dantamano Bhikkhu, a Dhammakaya monk-spokesman, described police violence during the clash. According to his messages on Twitter, a worshiper had been stomped and even attacked with a stun gun.

But Lt. Gen. Chanthep Sesavej, commander of the police units at the scene, said the woman was injured during the scuffles, and police did not use a stun gun.

“I don’t even want you to use the word clashes, they were just pushing each other,” Chanthep said. “They pushed us, so we pushed back.”

He also said electricity and water supply to Wat Dhammakaya has not been cut as reported on social media.

The situation at Wat Dhammakaya grew visibly more tense after the Department of Special Investigation, or DSI, instructed non-residents to leave the temple by 3pm on Sunday. The DSI said monks and laymen interfered with their search for Dhammachayo, which began Friday.

Instead of conceding, the Dhammakaya supporters’ reaction appeared to catch the police off guard. After the announcement was made, hundreds of Dhammakaya followers broke through police lines and entered the temple, while monks led groups of laymen to push police back from the temple gates before nightfall.

Despite the escalation Sunday, the DSI’s deputy chief maintained the situation is under control.

“I insist that we have control of the situation,” Lt. Col. Suriya Singhakamol told reporters. “We did not evaluate the situation incorrectly.”

He also said security forces would refrain from violence. Police on Monday said it sent 13 companies of crowd control units to reinforce the operation at Wat Dhammakaya as requested by the DSI.

Speaking about Monday’s clashes, a monk-spokesman for Wat Dhammakaya said the temple followers merely want to “ask to share the area” with police. Phra Sanitwong Wuttiwangso told reporters monks and worshipers need convenient access so they can leave to buy meals and do other personal business in the outside world.

He also said the 14 monks summoned by the DSI to meet with the officers on Sunday evening may not have shown up out of fear of police mistreatment.

“There is news on social media that people who previously met with officers were detained,” Sanitwong said. “So the laymen asked that they don’t meet with officers yet in this sensitive situation.”

The monk added that a much-circulated photo of Dhammakaya staff making a hole through a temple wall is true; he said some followers were afraid they would not be able get past police blockades at the gates so they had no choice but to make a new entrance.

All previous attempts by the DSI to enter the temple and search for the elusive Dhammachayo eventually came to an end after security officers encountered resistance from the temple supporters. Government 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 search effort began Thursday after the junta declared the area a restricted area, granting security officers authority to search buildings, make arrests and cut off any water or electricity as they see fit.

The temple denies the allegations of money laundering against Dhammachayo and says they are politically motivated.

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.

Monks and police face off close to Gates 5 and 6 of Wat Dhammakaya on Sunday evening.
Police briefly part way for monks to pass through checkpoints and collect morning alms on Monday.

 

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