Thailand says former Sri Lanka president Rajapaksa seeks visit, not asking for asylum

Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not made any public appearances or comments since leaving Sri Lanka. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand has received a request for former Sri Lanka president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to visit the country, but he has no intention of seeking political asylum, Thailand’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday (Aug 10).

Ministry spokesperson Tanee Sangrat said Thailand saw no problem with Mr Rajapaksa entering on a diplomatic passport, which would allow him to stay 90 days.

He did not say when Mr Rajapaksa intended to visit.

Earlier in the day, reports quoted two sources as saying Mr Rajapaksa is expected to arrive in Thailand on Thursday.

Sri Lanka's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr Rajapaksa will only temporarily stay in Thailand to look for permanent asylum in another country, the Bangkok Post cited Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as saying on Wednesday. 

The prime minister confirmed Mr Rajapaksa's temporary visit to Thailand for humanitarian reasons, and said he had promised not to conduct political activities in the kingdom during his search for a third. 

"This is a humanitarian issue. We have made a promise that it's a temporary stay. No [political] activities are allowed, and this will help him find a country to take refuge in," Mr Prayut said.

Thailand would be the second South-east Asian country Mr Rajapaksa is seeking temporary shelter after fleeing his island nation last month amid mass protests.

He fled to Singapore on July 14, via the Maldives, following unprecedented unrest triggered by Sri Lanka's worst economic crisis in seven decades and days after thousands of protesters stormed the president's official residence and office.

The retired military officer then resigned from the presidency, becoming the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term.

Mr Rajapaksa has not made any public appearances or comments since leaving Sri Lanka.

Singapore's government said last month that the city-state had not accorded him any privileges or immunity.

A member of the influential Rajapaksa family, the 73-year-old served in the Sri Lankan military and later as defence secretary.

During his time as defence secretary, government forces finally defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 to end the Sri Lankan civil war.

Some rights groups now want accusations that Mr Rajapaksa committed war crimes to be investigated. Mr Rajapaksa has strenuously denied the allegations.

Some critics and protesters also accuse Mr Rajapaksa and his family of mishandling the economy during his term as president, leading to the country's worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

His elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa is a former president and prime minister. Their younger sibling Basil Rajapaksa served as finance minister till earlier this year.

Mr Rajapaksa arrived at Changi Airport on a Saudia flight on July 14, 2022. PHOTO: ST FILE

Mr Rajapaksa's successor, Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, has indicated that the former president should refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future.

"I don't believe it's the time for him to return," Mr Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. "I have no indication of him returning soon."

If Mr Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka, he might not be protected under law if any charges were filed against him, legal experts have said.

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