February 21, 2018 / 7:13 AM / 10 months ago

Thai junta says 'not concerned' about ousted PM Thaksin's Asia tour

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand is not concerned about the movement of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, also an ousted former leader, after recent visits by the pair to several Asian cities and meetings with members of their party.

FILE PHOTO: Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra looks on as he speaks to Reuters during an interview in Singapore February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

The Shinawatras have dominated Thai politics for nearly two decades and wield significant influence through allies and relatives despite both living in self-exile. They are likely to be a significant factor in a general election the junta has promised for November.

Critics say the military, which took power in a 2014 coup that removed Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, wants to end the family’s political influence - something that is reflected in a new, military-backed charter, party laws and restrictions on political parties.

Thaksin and Yingluck visited China and Japan this month and met at least 30 members of parliament from their Puea Thai party in Hong Kong on the weekend, party members said after returning to Thailand.

The two were spotted in a Singapore hotel on Tuesday, meeting a group of unidentified men, and were in the city state on Wednesday, party sources said, adding they were having “business meetings”.

Political observers say their Asia tour is a sign that their party is gearing up for the election.

A spokesman for the junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, said it was not focused on the two Shinawatras.

“Monitoring those who have an arrest warrant is the job of relevant agencies. We are not concerned about this,” the spokesman, Piyapong Klinpan, told Reuters.

Former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 when he was overthrown in a military coup supported by the Bangkok-based establishment.

He left Thailand in 2008, shortly before a court convicted him of corruption and sentenced him to a two-year jail term. He said the conviction was politically motivated.

He is based in Dubai.

Yingluck was elected prime minister in 2011 but was forced from office by a 2014 court ruling, shortly before the military ousted her government.

Yingluck fled from Thailand in August, weeks before the Supreme Court found her guilty of negligence in mismanaging a rice-buying scheme and sentenced her to five years in prison.

She is based in Britain and has not spoken publicly since she left Thailand.

Several Puea Thai members told Reuters Thaksin did not discuss politics when he met party members of parliament in Hong Kong.

“We didn’t talk about politics because we know better than Thaksin what’s going on. He’s been out of the country so long,” said Wattana Muagnsook, a former commerce minister.

He said met Thaksin for a meal.

Phumtham Wechayachai, Puea Thai’s secretary-general, said the party has not held meetings because a junta ban on political gatherings was still in place.

FILE PHOTO: Ousted former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra greets supporters as she leaves the Supreme Court in Bangkok, Thailand, August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

Lawmakers might be trying to play down meetings with Thaksin because they fear legal action.

Legislation on political parties that took effect in October prohibits those “who are not party members” from “controlling or directing” a party.

Thaksin led the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party before a court dissolved it in 2007. He is not a member of its reincarnation, the Puea Thai party.

Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel

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