* Army bullets used in Sondhi attack
* Investigation ordered by army chief
* Sondhi due to leave hospital on Friday
By Kittipong Soonprasert
BANGKOK, April 23 (Reuters) - Thailand’s army chief said on Thursday some army bullets were used in the assassination attempt on Sondhi Limthongkul, the founder of the "yellow shirt" protest movement who had criticised the military.
Army chief Anupong Paochinda said the M-16 rounds used in last Friday’s attack on Sondhi, whose movement has been at the heart of Thailand’s political crisis, may have been stolen.
"These bullets are for training purposes by the First Army Region. This is clearly a leak," Anupong said, confirming that at least three spent M-16 cartridges were traced to the regional army that covers Bangkok and some central provinces.
He ordered an investigation and said any soldiers involved would be punished severely.
Anupong has previously denied speculation by some of Sondhi’s colleagues that military personnel may have been involved in the assassination attempt. But the audacious attack while Bangkok is under emergency rule reinforced the belief "that only uniformed men with the protection of higher ups had the capacity to pull off such a high profile murder attempt", as the Bangkok Post’s military affairs correspondent, Wassana Nanuam, wrote.
Police found 84 spent M-16, AK-47 and pistol cartridges and an unexploded M-79 grenade from the dawn attack by at least five gunmen, which followed a week of violent street protests by a rival group that supports former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Police have made no arrests, and Sondhi has been silent while recovering from a head wound that was not life-threatening. His driver was seriously wounded.
Sondhi, a co-founder of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), led mass protests against Thaksin before he was ousted in a 2006 coup. It then turned its guns on pro-Thaksin governments last year, occupying Government House for three months and causing chaos when it briefly seized Bangkok’s main airports.
The PAD played no part in last week’s political violence, which left two people dead and disrupted a summit of Asian leaders after Thaksin supporters invaded the meeting site.
Wassana said Sondhi, the firebrand owner of the Manager media group, helped build the PAD "into a political force to be reckoned with and, in the process, accumulated high-powered enemies".
Some PAD members believe elements of the military may have been involved in the attack on Sondhi, who has been critical of key figures in the military in recent months.
"If Anupong does not get serious and investigate those bullets, we will consider him an accomplice," PAD co-leader Somsak Kosaisuk told Reuters.
THAKSIN UNDER FIRE
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who is visiting the United States this week, accused Thaksin of playing a role in the attempt on Sondhi’s life.
"Thaksin failed on the populist movement and now I think he has resorted to some sort of assassination attempt," the Bangkok Post quoted Kasit as telling a group in New York.
Kasit, criticised for backing the PAD’s occupation of Bangkok’s airports last year, gave no evidence to support his claims.
Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire before entering politics, has lived in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year jail term on conflict of interest charges.
The Thai government stripped Thaksin of his passport last week, when it also emerged that the wily former premier had received a diplomatic passport from Nicaragua, which named him a "special ambassador".
The government has issued several arrest warrants for Thaksin and lobbied foreign countries to stop giving him refuge.
A deputy minister told parliament on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates, where Thaksin gave interviews to the foreign press last week, had ordered him to leave.
"The UAE does not want to harm relations with a friendly country like Thailand by allowing their country to be used as a base of attack," Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Pollabutr said of his talks with UAE officials a few days ago.
He did not say where Thaksin was now. ——————————————————————————————-
Selection of top stories - Is there an escape route from crisis? [ID:nSP434712] - Perceptions of Thai political risk [ID:nSP484822] - Q+A-T-shirt politics -the colour coded agitators[ID:nSP395464] - When chaos came to the land of smiles [ID:nBKK221461] ———————————————————————————————- - (Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Alan Raybould and Sanjeev Miglani)