Fears prompt security cocoon around Thaksin

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 March, 2008, 12:00am

Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you - that is the situation ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra now finds himself in as he settles in Bangkok after 17 months in self-imposed exile.

Security concerns are continuing to dominate Thaksin's daily planning, according to political sources close to his camp.

He did not return to his luxurious suite at The Peninsula hotel on Friday night. His entourage checked out yesterday morning from the three floors they were intending to occupy for several weeks, heading for an undisclosed location after two days of intense public scrutiny.

The security of the Peninsula's private grounds, its location on the Chao Praya river and helicopter pad saw Thaksin initially choose the hotel over his expansive private mansion. Since his return, he has travelled about Bangkok in a bullet-proof vehicle and flanked by heavy police protection, often changing his routes at the last minute.

'He needs more time, privacy for him and his family,' Thaksin spokesman Sasani Nakpong said as he confirmed the move from the hotel.

Other political sources said Thaksin remained deeply fearful of breakaway military elements still determined to keep him from power after the election victory of his allies in the People Power Party last December. They note that he only returned after extensive private discussions with the coup leaders who drove him from power in September 2006, as well as assurances from current army chief Anupong Paojinda.

'For all his political cunning and manoeuvring, Mr Thaksin has never been accused of being physically courageous or reckless,' said one source close to his team. 'He is highly cautious about his personal protection.'

More than 500 hand-picked police secured his arrival on Thursday - an event marred by last-minute reports of a plot by military snipers to assassinate him. The rumours saw heavily armed counter-snipers positioned at high points around the VIP terminal and points along his route.

Western diplomatic and security analysts are privately expressing doubts about the plot, saying if there really was one then it was highly unlikely figures such as new Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung would be talking about it so openly. Mr Chalerm is a close Thaksin ally and met him at the airport.

The fears for his life reflect five years in power marked by worries of threat and persecution.

Shortly after he took power in 2001, a Thai airways 737-400 exploded on a Bangkok airport runway hours before Thaksin was due to travel in it. One crew member died in the blast, which occurred before any passengers were on board. A probe failed to find any traces of a device and concluded it was an accident.

One month before the coup, a bomb was found in a car near Thaksin's motorcade. Despite government claims of an assassination plot against him, the event was met with considerable mistrust. Sceptics noted the fact that the bomb was not fully wired and easily spotted by Thaksin's team.

Thailand's Election Commission was campaigning yesterday to boost voter turnout ahead of today's poll to elect 76 senators. A representative will be elected for each of the 76 provinces in the first Senate election since the 2006 coup.

Under a constitution enacted last year, the 150-member Senate is divided between appointed and elected members. The previous 1997 constitution had made the upper house an all-elected body, but that charter was scrapped after the coup.

Last month, 74 appointed members of the new Senate were endorsed by the Election Commission.

The Senate is empowered to remove cabinet members, appoint and remove the commissioners of independent state organisations and scrutinise laws passed by the lower house.