BANGKOK — A police spokesman confirmed reports that the military has detained seven people, including police officers, on suspicion of stealing more than 800 firearms from a border police depot in the northeast.
Police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen confirmed a report the group, said to be linked to militant Redshirts, had smuggled 885 guns from an Udon Thani depot since 2012. But Krissana said their motives and connections were unclear.
“We are still expanding the investigation,” Col, Krissana said. “We want to find out who’s behind them.”
The details of the case were first reported Tuesday by Matichon Online, which cited an anonymous government source saying the suspects were linked to an underground militant cell referred to as the Khon Kaen Model, which authorities accused of attempting to incite insurrection against the junta. More than 20 people related to the alleged cell remain in custody.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan also confirmed the arrests and, like Krissana, said it’s too early to make conclusions.
“Don’t say they are related to the Khon Kaen Model yet because it may damage the suspects,” Gen. Prawit told reporters Wednesday. “We have to wait for clear evidence first before saying such a thing. Right now the evidence is not clear, so don’t talk that way. It’s not good. Don’t hypothesize.”
A key activist in the Redshirt movement denied any involvement.
“We don’t know anything about it,” Thida Thavornseth, a leader of the Redshirts umbrella group the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship. “We are not related to it, and it’s also an incredible story … 885 guns stolen? If it’s true, there would have been a big gunfight already!”
Krissana said police discovered the theft “two or three years ago,” and they have already expelled a number of officers implicated in the case. The arrests of this latest group of suspects, which included both border patrol officers and civilians, were the results of the years-long investigation, Krissana said.
The Matichon report also said the seven unnamed people were being detained at the 11th Army Circle in Bangkok, a military base converted into special prison for suspects in national security cases.
Krissana said local military units in Udon Thani arrested the group “several days ago” before alerting the police. He said he’s not aware when the military will hand over the suspects to police.
Thida questioned the timing of the news.
“If I were to be pessimistic about this, I would think, this happened five years, why didn’t they investigate it back then? Why bring it up now?” Thida said. “Is this an attempt to disrupt the reconciliation process, or to accuse Redshirts of being violent? I don’t know.”
Earlier today spokesman for the junta said he had no information of the arrests. However, spokesman Winthai Suvaree allowed that one of many local security units commanded by the junta might have apprehended the group, but he doubted it.
“We don’t know what unit could possibly have done this,” Col. Winthai said, suggesting police in Udon Thani might have information.
Maj. Gen. Peerapong Wongsaman, commander of Udon Thani police, said he cannot discuss the matter.
“I cannot give any comment about this,” Peerapong said, before referring a reporter to deputy police commissioner Srivara Ransibrahmanakul. Lt. Gen. Srivara generally oversaw cases related to terrorism and national security such as, most recently, the waves of bomb attacks that struck southern Thailand in August.
Srivara could not be reached for comment, but other media reports indicated he was scheduled to interrogate the seven police officers in person Wednesday evening.