BANGKOK, Feb. 25 (Xinhua)-- Leaders of anti-government protesters are being guarded by about 500 gun-carrying men at several protest sites in the heart of the Thai capital, said a high-level government official Tuesday.
Acting Labor Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who heads the government's Center for Maintaining of Peace and Order, said no less than 500 men have armed themselves with handguns to provide tight security for protest leaders. They are headed by former Deputy Premier Suthep Thaugsuban, who has been persistently pressing acting Premier Yingluck Shinawatra to step down over the past few months.
Hundreds of the armed guards have circled around the protest leaders at street areas around Patumwan, Rajprasong and Lumpini intersections where they have had their followers occupy since last month, according to Chalerm.
"The unarmed policemen could not arrest protest leaders at the protest sites because they would otherwise get shot by gunmen hired as their guards," he said.
Chalerm said that the police will not use force against the protest leaders or their followers despite emergency rule currently enforced in the capital and outlying provinces.
The CMPO chief said he knew who hired those armed men but was declined to tell. "We not only know who they are and where they come from but know what types of weapons they're using," Chalerm said.
The remarks came after Tuesday's arrest of three ex-navy officers in Rayong province, about 200 kilometers southeast of Bangkok.
However, the unidentified ex-Navy Seal soldiers were not connected with last Saturday's gunshot and grenade attack on a crowd at an anti-government protest site in neighboring Trat province, in which a five-year-old child and another person were killed and dozens others injured, police said.
Last month, three other Navy Seal officers were arrested at a police checkpoint near Government House with handguns and pass cards granted to them by protest leaders.
The soldiers were suspected to have been hired as gunmen for protest leaders but they categorically denied it.