Thai authorities seize opposition figures headed to park at heart of army corruption scandal

Soldiers and police in military-run Thailand detained two top leaders of the anti-government Red Shirt movement Monday as they were set to visit a park celebrating past Thai kings that's at the center of a corruption scandal linked to the army.

Thai television channels showed video of Nattawut Saikua and Jatuporn Prompan being taken into a van after being seized while talking to reporters in a suburb of Bangkok about their planned trip to Rajabhakti Park, near the seaside town of Hua Hin. An assistant to Nattawut, who witnessed the incident but declined to give his name for fear of harassment from the authorities, said the men were taken away with no word on where they were going.

The military, which seized power in a May 2014 coup, has denied financial wrongdoing related to the park, built under its auspices on army land and featuring giant statues of seven past Thai kings.

Two senior officers have been accused of wrongdoing, including kickbacks and the diversion of funds contributed to the project, which has been described as costing 1 billion baht ($28 million).

Junta spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree said the military viewed the two men's plans to visit the park as "an obvious political movement which started to stir up the public and could lead to turmoil."

Maj. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said the two men had "only been invited for a talk," because the authorities feared there could be a clash at the park between Red Shirt supporters and opponents.

He declined to specify where they were being held or how long they would be detained for.

The ruling junta often calls in its public critics for what it calls "attitude adjustment," which can last for several hours or several days. It is usually carried out at military bases, with the detainees' locations kept secret.

The park affair has been a public relations disaster for the military government, for which cleaning up corruption has been one of its major rationales for holding power.

The Red Shirt movement to which Nattawut and Jatuporn belong is closely associated with the Pheu Thai Party, whose government was ousted by last year's military coup. The Red Shirts are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was also toppled by a coup in 2006, setting off a power struggle and years of sometimes violent conflict.