Former Sri Lanka president who fled homeland arrives in Thailand

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapakse arrived in Bangkok from Singapore, where he had been staying since mid-July.

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled anti-government protests in his country last month, has flown to Thailand from Singapore, where he had been staying since mid-July.

A senior Thai official said the former leader landed on a private jet at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport around 8pm local time.

About 40 minutes later, he walked out of the airport’s VIP section with his wife and got into a black sedan, local media reported.

Officials in Thailand said on Wednesday that they had been asked by the Sri Lankan government to admit them and that they would be allowed to stay temporarily.

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand [Tananchai Keawsowattana/Reuters]

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he was aware of Rajapakse’s visit and that the permission was given on humanitarian grounds as the former president was seeking asylum in a third country. He did not elaborate but said Rajapaksa would not engage in political activities while in Thailand.

Rajapakse has not made any public comments about his travel plans. After fleeing Sri Lanka last month, he first flew to the neighboring Maldives on a Sri Lankan military plane and then to Singapore, where his visa expired on Thursday. He submitted his resignation only after leaving Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankans have held mass street protests for months demanding democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic crisis.

Protesters occupying official offices and residences in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, blame the Rajapaksa family’s mismanagement and corruption for an economic crisis that has led to severe shortages of essential goods such as medicine, food and fuel. The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program.

Thailand’s foreign ministry spokesman Thani Sangat said on Wednesday that Rajapaksa’s stay was “temporary for the purposes of onward travel” and that “no political asylum has been sought”. He said that since the former president has a diplomatic passport, he will be allowed to stay for 90 days without a visa.

In addition to being criticized for mismanaging his country’s economy, Rajapaksa has been accused by human rights groups of complicity in war crimes when he was defense secretary during Sri Lanka’s civil war that ended in 2009.

An international human rights group last month called on Singapore to prosecute Rajapakse for crimes against humanity during the country’s decades-long civil war.

The South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project said it had called on Singapore to exercise universal jurisdiction to arrest the former president for serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers confirmed it had received the complaint from the rights group, without giving details.

A Rajapaksa confidant told the AFP news agency that the former leader was keen to go home as protests against his administration had died down, but his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe had advised him to return early.

Singaporean officials had said he was on a private visit to the city-state, and the foreign minister stressed he had not been granted any special privileges.

“In general, the Singapore government does not extend privileges, immunities and hospitality to former heads of state or heads of government,” Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a written reply to a question in Parliament last week.

“As a result, former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not been accorded any privileges, immunities or hospitality.”

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