THAILAND: Gov’t Tightens Noose on Thaksin with Terrorism Charge

  • by Marwaan Macan-Markar (bangkok)
  • Monday, May 31, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

But this fourth mark of distinction — following his becoming the first prime minister to complete a four-year term in this kingdom, the first premier to be re-elected for a consecutive term and the first former Thai leader to be convicted on corruption — carries with it a sense of irony.

After all it was in August 2003, when Thaksin’s increasingly authoritarian first term was taking shape, that he rammed down this South-east Asian nation’s anti-terrorism law through an executive decree.

These changes to Thailand’s criminal code were what the powerful department of special investigations (DSI) turned to when it sought a Bangkok court’s warrant for Thaksin’s arrest for 'terrorist activities.' The Criminal Court left its mark on Thai political history by allowing the DSI to go after the 60-year-old fugitive, now living in exile, on May 26.

The charges were linked to his role as the political patron of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the anti-government protest movement that was driven off the streets by the Thai military following a two-month long protest in Bangkok. Two military crackdowns in April and May resulted in at least 85 people dead, mostly civilians, and over 1,100 injured.

Thaksin’s role in this bloody showdown, the worst Bangkok has witnessed since May 1992, ranges from his alleged involvement in the UDD’s use of force and encouraging the destruction of public property, according to the DSI. At least 30 buildings were torched while the militant wing of the UDD resisted the advance of heavily armed troops during a week-long operation in mid-May at Rajaprasong, the glamorous shopping district that thousands of poor rural and urban protesters had occupied in a campaign for an early general election.

But getting a court to declare Thaksin a wanted 'terrorist' may be the easy part for the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The 17-month- old Abhisit administration has set its sights on help from Interpol to have Thaksin, a holder of multiple passports and citizenship in Nicaragua and Montenegro, arrested and extradited to Bangkok.

'We will be providing documents to Interpol,' the premier confirmed during a Saturday afternoon press conference with foreign correspondents. 'It is a two-step process: you need to issue an arrest warrant before extradition.'

This, however, is not the first time that the Abhisit administration has sought help from the Lyon-based international police organisation to nab Thaksin, the former telecom mogul who has been traversing the globe to escape a two-year jail term for corruption. But such efforts since April last year proved to no avail, because Interpol did not issue its well known Red Notice for the arrest of a wanted person for extradition based on a warrant or court ruling.

Already Bangkok-based diplomats contend that the Thai government’s second request may see little headway. 'Interpol would only issue a Red Notice after it makes its own ruling if the request by a government is politically motivated or not,' says a European diplomat. 'A Red Notice does not automatically mean extradition.'

What is more, European Union countries 'will not hand Thaksin over because of the death sentence being the maximum penalty in Thailand for terrorism,' the envoy, who declined to be named, told IPS.

If anything, a Red Notice may curtail Thaksin’s movements in Europe, adding to more than three countries — Britain, Germany and France — that have placed restrictions on him.

Sri Lanka’s experience with Selvarasah Pathmanathan, better known as ‘KP’, may prove instructive to Thailand. Colombo tried to secure an Interpol Red Notice for KP, the chief arms procurer and arms smuggler for the Tamil Tigers rebels during its decades long separatist war, which ended last year.

'The only diplomatic benefit after KP was placed on Interpol’s wanted list was our ability to put pressure on foreign governments to have him arrested or provide information on his movements,' says a Sri Lankan diplomat. 'Sri Lanka was hoping that Interpol would act on its own Red Notice, which didn’t happen.'

The Tamil Tigers’ arms merchant, who had multiple passports, was finally arrested in a sting operation involving the Malaysian police in August last year.

Thaksin, whose second term in office ended when the Thai military launched a coup in September 2006, clearly has plans to take on Bangkok’s diplomatic offensive against him. He reportedly unveiled plans on Monday to hire a Dutch war crimes expert to investigate the abuses the Thai troops committed during the bloody military crackdown of the UDD protesters.

This looming battle on the international stage will test the Thai government’s diplomatic muscle, say analysts familiar with the bitter rivalry between Thaksin and the Abhisit government that surfaced during the protests.

'The former prime minister has been a big obstacle for compromise. He will continue to be a big obstacle,' Abhisit said during his weekend press conference. 'We are trying to tell his supporters to move beyond the former prime minister.'

But some of the now dispersed supporters of the UDD, who spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity, have a different message for the government: labelling Thaksin a 'terrorist' and blaming him for the recent violence at Rajaprasong will do little to heal the country’s political wounds.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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