Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives in Bangkok from Singapore, where he has been since mid-July.
Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled anti-government protests in his country last month, has arrived in Thailand on a flight from Singapore, where he had been staying since mid-July.
The former leader landed by private jet at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport around 8 p.m. local time (1:00 p.m. GMT), a senior Thai official said.
About 40 minutes later, he and his wife left the airport’s VIP area and boarded a black limousine, local media reported.
Officials in Thailand said on Wednesday they had been asked by the Sri Lankan government to allow him entry and he 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 Rajapaksa’s planned visit and was allowed on humanitarian grounds because the former president is seeking asylum in a third country. He did not elaborate, but said Rajapaksa would not engage in any political activity while in Thailand.
Rajapaksa has not commented publicly on his travel plans. After fleeing Sri Lanka last month, he first flew on a Sri Lankan military plane to the neighboring Maldives and then to Singapore, where his visa expired on Thursday. He only tendered his resignation after leaving Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankans have been staging massive street protests for months to demand democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters who occupied official offices and homes in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo blame mismanagement and corruption by the Rajapaksa family for the economic crisis, which has left serious shortages of basic necessities like medicine, food and fuel. The island state is negotiating a rescue program with the International Monetary Fund.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tanee Sangrat said on Wednesday that Rajapaksa’s “stay is of a temporary nature with the aim of onward travel” and that “no political asylum has been sought”. He said because the former president has a diplomatic passport, he can stay 90 days without a visa.
Alongside criticism for poorly managing his country’s economy, Rajapaksa has been accused by human rights groups of involvement in war crimes while he was defense minister during Sri Lanka’s civil war that ended in 2009.
An international human rights group last month formally called on Singapore to indict Rajapaksa for crimes against humanity during his country’s decades-long civil war.
The South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project said it had urged Singapore to exercise universal jurisdiction to arrest the former president for serious violations of international humanitarian law.
The Singapore Attorney General’s Chamber confirmed that it had received a complaint from the rights group, without giving details.
A source close to Rajapaksa told AFP that the former leader was keen to go home as anti-government protests fizzled out, but his successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, had advised against returning early.
Singapore officials had said he was in the city-state on a private visit, and the foreign minister stressed he would not be given any special privileges.
“In general, the government of Singapore does not grant privileges, immunity and hospitality to former heads of state or government,” Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a written response to a parliamentary question last week.
“Consequently, no privileges, immunity or hospitality were granted to former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”