Sri Lanka's ousted president Rajapaksa may return home by early September: Sources

Former Sri Lanka president Gotabaya Rajapaksa (right) seen in Thailand's Don Mueang Airport on Aug 11, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

COLOMBO (REUTERS) - Sri Lanka's former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa may return home in about two weeks after fleeing a popular uprising in July, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday (Aug 23), depending in part on arrangements to secure his safety.

One of the sources said his return was partly linked to the costs of his stay in Thailand.

Mr Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka in the early hours of July 13 after massive protests engulfed Colombo and demonstrators angry with the country's economic devastation stormed his official residence and office.

He resigned as president after reaching Singapore, from where he later flew to Thailand.

Sri Lankan media had reported Mr Rajapaksa could come back on Wednesday, but the sources said the arrival had been deferred as talks continue between the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the government over his security and other concerns.

"He definitely wants to come back. But security is the main issue and intelligence has advised that he delay his return,"said one of the sources, a Sri Lankan government official.

"He may return in two weeks or even before that if arrangements for his safety can be made."

The second source said high cost of his stay in Thailand was a factor in seeking a return home as soon as possible.

"The bill has now run to several hundred million rupees as it includes the cost for a private jet, a presidential suite and round the clock security," the source said. "The cost is becoming prohibitive."

The expenses are largely being borne by some of his supporters, according to another source close to the Rajapaksa family.

All the sources declined to be named discussing the affairs of a former president.

SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said the party had met President Ranil Wickremesinghe seeking arrangements for Mr Rajapaksa's return.

"We have made the request for his return to be facilitated as soon as possible," Mr Kariyawasam said.

Mr Wickremesinghe told Reuters last week he was "not aware" of any plans for Mr Rajapaksa's return. He also said any legal action against Mr Rajapaksa would proceed in accordance with Sri Lanka's laws.

Anti-corruption body Transparency International says Sri Lanka has already approached the country's top court seeking "action against persons responsible for the current economic crisis", including two of Mr Rajapaksa's brothers who were prime minister and finance minister under him.

As Sri Lanka tries to deal with one of its worst economic crises, a team from the International Monetary Fund will arrive on Wednesday for talks on a possible US$3 billion (S$4.18 billion) bailout, which will include a debt restructuring framework.

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