BANGKOK — Police on Tuesday admitted that a group of unidentified men in plain-cloth who were present during clashes between riot police and protesters earlier this week belonged to the armed forces.
The men, about 100 of them, gathered briefly in front of the 1st Infantry Regiment base, where protesters marched on Sunday to denounce PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s stay at a public-funded residence. Deputy Bangkok police chief Piya Tawichai said today the individuals were soldiers and police officers deployed there to help put up barricades.
“Most of them were police,” Police Maj. Gen. Piya said. “They weren’t clashing with the protesters, because they were in a different section. Their job was to take care of the barricades only.”
The helmeted men did not wear any ID tags when they were milling about just behind a line of riot police at Sunday’s protest. They also refused to identify themselves to reporters, and other police officers in the area insisted they didn’t know who the individuals were.
Police, soldiers, or agent provocateurs? Scores of unidentified men in plain cloth and helmets are seen milling about behind the riot police’s line. They refuse to tell us who they are, and police made no attempt to interfere with their activities. #Thailand #KE #ม็อบ28กุมภา pic.twitter.com/rGwBBKDcfK
— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) February 28, 2021
But they were later filmed by Khaosod English marching into the Army Club just north of the base, under police’s escort.
National police spokesman Yingyot Thepchamnong said it was perfectly normal for the men to put on civilian clothes and displayed no visible ID tags when they were deployed alongside the riot police.
“The decision [for plain-cloth] is made per each operation,” Maj. Gen. Yingyot said. “It has to depend on the situations.”
Army spokeswoman Col Sirichan Ngathong meanwhile declined to confirm whether some of the unidentified men were indeed soldiers. When she was reached for comment earlier today by phone, Sirichan said she needed more time to verify the information.
The tactic didn’t sit well with many protesters and observers, who fear the confusion could be exploited by agent provocateurs or factions who want to sow chaos at protest sites. A similar scenario played out during a protest close to the Grand Palace on the night of Feb. 13.
One of the critics is Gothom Arya, an expert on peaceful resolutions to conflicts at Mahidol University, who said security officers should be clearly identified at protests.
“It’d have been better if we can build trust between police and demonstrators,” he said by phone. “And in order to build trust and lessen tension, there has to be clear identification.”
Piya, the deputy chief of Bangkok police force, disagreed. He said the plain-cloth officers were under a proper chain of command and they were not deployed to infiltrate the crowd of demonstrators or incite any violence.
“It was in accordance with international standards,” Maj. Gen. Piya said. “Don’t worry about this issue. They were under strict discipline.”