As the Thai province of Trang grips itself for an extensive manhunt, specialist jungle-navigation soldiers join forces with local authorities, all with a singular mission in mind – to recapture the armed escapee, Chaowalit Thongduang, better known by locals as Sia Paeng Nanod. The fugitive is suspected to be using the dense foliage of the Banthad mountain range as his hideout.
Saturday morning saw the arrival of military personnel from Naresuan Camp in Phetchaburi, a welcome reinforcement to the over 30 patrol officers already tirelessly braving the dense Trang jungle on motorcycles. Their pursuit, however, is nature-tested, playing out on unsteady mountainous terrain drenched in relentless rain.
With vehicular access impossible, the manhunt shifts into survivalist mode, as authorities navigate the treacherous terrain on foot. The severity of the search has called in backup from adjacent southern border provinces like Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat. Boasting their grit and determination amidst the gruelling scenario, the police force remains confident about bringing the escapade to a successful close.
As they take on the jungle and indigenous weather, the officers have another challenge at hand – the unwitting locals. People residing close to the inconspicuous mountain range, who would usually spend their days foraging for sustenance in the forest, have been courteously asked to clear the area for the next couple of days. This precautionary step ensures their safety as the operation unfolds.
Meanwhile, urgency has set in as arrest warrants have been issued against residents potentially aiding the escaped convict. Chaowalit was serving time on attempted murder charges before absconding during a routine medical examination. Leading the searches is the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), who recently searched the residence of Chaowalit’s cousin, Kasidchart, suspected of having a hand in the escape. Police seized two of his mobile phones, with hopes of finding potential leads to the fugitive from his communication records.
Last Wednesday, Chaowalit was involved in a shootout with the police at his mountain hideout. A murky picture begins to emerge – the escapee and his unidentified accomplices were well equipped with formidable weapons and over 600 rounds of ammunition, enough to stage a mini-war. The fugitive is serving his sentence for attempted murder and is also facing additional charges of murder.
Chaowalit made a daring escape from Maharat Nakhon Si Thammarat Hospital on October 22. He had been taken in for dental treatment but collapsed under claims of severe leg pain. Despite the restraints and leg chains, he managed to flee under the veil of the night. The convicted felon was sentenced to 20+ years in prison last year for an armed attack on the police during a failed abduction bid back in September 2019. The charismatic criminal began serving his sentence in January 2022 at Phatthalung Prison but was transferred to Nakhon Si Thammarat Prison in early August the same year.