A senior Thai security official alleged Monday that members of the anti-government Red Shirt movement were trained in Cambodia to assassinate top Thai leaders, including the prime minister.
Eleven men who were arrested last week in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai were among 39 given ideological and combat training in a "neighboring country," Lt. Col. Payao Thongsen, a senior investigator for the Department of Special Investigation, said at a news conference.
He did not name the country but described the routes the men allegedly took to their training ground, which led to Cambodian border crossings.
Cambodian officials were not immediately available for comment late Monday but have denied previous such allegations published in Thai media. Cambodia's relations with Thailand have been contentious for years, with the focus mostly on a border dispute.
The allegations also raise the stakes in an increasingly convoluted political battle that began in 2006, when elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a military coup for alleged corruption and disrespect toward Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The coup, supposed to restore stability after months of anti-Thaksin demonstrations that had all but paralyzed his administration, instead polarized the country, with Thaksin's opponents and supporters both protesting in the streets.
The Red Shirts include many Thaksin supporters as well as activists opposed to military interference in politics.
Two months of protests earlier this year by the Red Shirts _ formally called the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD _ demanding early elections degenerated into violence. About 90 people were killed by the time the army cleared the streets of demonstrators on May 19. Most top Red Shirt leaders were detained on terrorism charges.
Dozens of bombings widely thought to be linked to the political strife have also plagued Bangkok this year.
Payao said the 39 alleged trainees were part of a conspiracy to topple Thailand's monarchy, an allegation his agency _ the equivalent of the U.S. FBI _ has made in the past against Red Shirts and their sympathizers.
"During the training, they were taught by the Thai UDD members who were in the neighboring country about political beliefs and more importantly about hatred toward the institution," he said in an interview with the government-owned MCOT television network.
"The institution" is a common euphemism for the monarchy, which until recent years has been held in almost universal high regard. However, some Red Shirts and social critics perceive that some palace circles were involved in the coup.
A report on MCOT's website said that Payao asserted that the alleged terrorists' three weeks of training "was held in a Cambodian army camp and they were trained by Cambodian soldiers." The website of several Thai newspapers cited him making the same assertion.
Payao said the men were "trained to know almost every kind of weapon," including assault rifles and grenade launchers, and were also shown the use of C4 plastic explosive.
He did not explain why Cambodia would be involved in such a conspiracy.
The two nations have had a series of small but sometimes deadly skirmishes over the demarcation of their border near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple. Relations worsened last year, with both countries withdrawing their ambassadors, after Cambodian leader Hun Sen made Thaksin an official adviser and hosted him like a VIP. Thaksin recently resigned that position, and both countries restored their ambassadors.
MCOT reported that Payao said the alleged assassination targets included Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva; recently resigned Deputy Prime Minster Suthep Thaugsuban; Newin Chidchob, and influential politician who supports Abhisit government; and a senior police officer.
Payao displayed what he said was evidence of the assassination plot, including maps and photos. However, none of the 11 men arrested in Chiang Mai _ said by Payao to be the source of information on the plot _ have been produced for the press to give their side of the story.
Police have said the 11 are being held as material witnesses with useful information about other suspects. The identities of at least some of the other men allegedly trained in Cambodia are known, and Payao said officials are trying to track them down.
MCOT reported that Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt leader who is a member of Parliament, denied that his movement was part of any assassination plot. The Red Shirts charge that allegations that they are involved in violence are meant to discredit them politically.
(This version CORRECTS that Payao described routes sted showed maps)