Thai junta briefly detains opposition leaders ahead of anti-graft inspection

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Pracha Hariraksapitak
Anti-government "red shirt" leader Jatuporn Prompan (2nd L) poses for photographers with his colleague Nattawut Saikua before going to a court room at Thailand's Criminal Court in Bangkok July 7, 2011. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Pracha Hariraksapitak

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's army on Monday detained two leaders of an opposition group who were planning to visit a public park dedicated to the monarchy that has been at the center of a corruption scandal involving the military government.

The two were later released, said Colonel Thammanoon Withee, head of the 1st Army Command Operations Unit, and escorted back to their homes.

The allegations relating to the financing of the Rachabhakti Park, built on army property in the seaside town of Hua Hin, are threatening to damage an anti-graft drive by the junta, which seized power last year.

Nattawut Saikua and Jatuporn Prompan, leaders of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the "red shirt" group, were taken away by the army before they could set off for the park.

"They wanted to see how the park was operating and to see the place where the military allegedly abused funds, but also to pay respects to past kings," Thanawut Wichaidit, a spokesman for the UDD, said.

"This is a violation of our right to pay respects."

Colonel Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the junta, or National Council for Peace and Order, confirmed the men's detention and said their actions were a "clear example of a political movement".

The junta has banned political gatherings of more than five people and has summoned hundreds of activists for questioning since taking power.

Many, including politicians and journalists, have been forced to attend attitude adjustment sessions at military facilities.

Winthai urged the public to follow news about the park graft investigation through official channels.

The accusations of kickbacks, leveled by some Thai media and opposition groups, have transfixed a country anxious over the declining health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87.

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Sanjeev Miglani)