By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — A leader of a pro-democracy group said their plans to visit a scandal-plagued “history park” built by the army are unchanged after one of his fellow student activists was believed to have been detained by the military.
Siriwith Seritiwat, a Thammasat University student and member of the New Democracy Movement, was not heard from for some time after telling friends an army officer had summoned him to a meeting Saturday afternoon, according to Rangsiman Rome, another leader of the group.
Rangsiman and others worried he'd been taken into custody, but Siriwith posted to Facebook on Saturday evening that he was still free.
His order to appear from the military came after members of the group said they would travel to the controversial Rajabhakti Park, which was built by the military and is now embroiled in allegations of corruption, as a symbolic reminder that the military is not above corruption.
On Facebook, Siriwith wrote that visit would go ahead whether he was arrested or killed.
On Monday, two Redshirt leaders were on their way to the park, which was built to glorify the monarchy but has become a source of embarrassing revelations for the military, when they were detained by soldiers for several hours before being released.
Rangsiman said the military has always insisted it’s not corrupt and positions itself as aggressively anti-corruption, so the trip was to be a reminder to the public this is not always the case.
The trip is to include about 30 people including members of the group, some of which have were previously arrested, charged, held and ultimately released in June for protesting against the junta, and members of the public.
Rome said they would board a train bound for the Hua Hin district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province, where the park is located. The group planned to depart Bangkok’s Bangkok Noi train station at 7am on Monday.
Asked whether the group thinks it will be allowed to proceed or stopped like the Redshirts, Rangsiman said he hopes they’ll be allowed to travel unimpeded.
“I try to think nothing will happen,” said Rangsiman, who himself will not join the trip due to an upcoming examination at Thammasat University, where he’s a postgraduate student.
Rome added someone should take responsibility for the park, especially since former army chief Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr, who oversaw the approximately 1 billion-baht project, admitted to some financial irregularities. Among allegations Udomdej confirmed were “commissions” collected by a middleman from foundries approved to cast the giant king statues that are the park’s main feature.
Rangsiman denied the move is merely a stunt to provoke the junta to react – or overreact.
He said the public, including his fellow activists, are talking about the alleged corruption, making it imperative they be able to see the site, where giant statues of seven past kings have been erected, with their own eyes.
“I don’t see this as an act of provocation to the National Council for Peace and Order,” he said, referring to the formal name of the military junta which staged the coup in May 2014. “Many have never been there themselves."
Update: This story has been updated to reflect Siriwith's confirmation Saturday night he was not in military custody.
Pravit Rojanaphruk can be followed on Twitter at @PravitR