By THE NATION
However, the premier cast doubt on the possibility of an abduction and questioned whether people would be able to transport heavy weapons across the country to commit such a crime.
He added that security officers had been following Wutthipon’s whereabouts, and Lao authorities had told their Thai counterparts that they did not know exactly where Wuthipong was but would keep checking.
Other junta authorities yesterday denied involvement in the alleged disappearance of the outspoken monarchy critic from neighbouring Laos after the reports emerged he was abducted by a group of armed men.
Wutthipong, better known by his nickname “Ko Tee”, is a firebrand self-styled militant leader of the anti-junta red-shirt movement and a critic of the monarchy.
He fled after the 2014 coup and settled in Laos from where he berated the junta in a series of videos and radio broadcasts, often dressed in camouflage outfits.
Over the weekend reports emerged via supporters that Wutthipong had been abducted by a group of Thai-speaking armed men from his home in Vientiane last Thursday.
The reports quoted his wife and a friend who said they were tied up, blindfolded, beaten and attacked with stun guns. Wutthipong was allegedly driven away while they were left behind.
The claims have not been independently verified and reporters have yet to speak to Wutthipong’s wife or the friend to confirm their account.
But in a statement yesterday Human Rights Watch said the reports “raised grave concerns for his [Wutthipong’s] safety” as they called on the Laos authorities to investigate.
As local media coverage of the abduction intensified, Thailand’s military authorities yesterday denied any involvement and accused Wutthipong’s network of spreading rumours.
“We have to investigate further as there are several reasons why he [Wutthipong] might just slip away to create news,” General Thawip Netniyom, secretary-general of Thailand’s National Security Council, told reporters.
He added that authorities had “monitored” Wutthipong and his network in Laos and pushed for the Vientiane authorities to extradite him. “But we haven’t implemented any other measures than that,” he said.
It is not the first time a junta critic has gone missing from Laos.
In June 2016, Ittipon Sukpaen, a less well-known dissident, disappeared from the outskirts of Vientiane and has not been seen since. His family has since said they believe he is dead.