Thaksin scales back Myanmar visit after reports of assassination plot

Fugitive ex-prime minister's rally of 'red shirts' called off after claim by Bangkok, now doubted, that Myanmar had detained would-be assassin

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 3:58am

When Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra announced plans to visit the Myanmese border town of Tachileik tomorrow and Saturday, it prompted thousands of his supporters to book out hotels in the neighbouring town of Mae Sai on the Thai side of the border.

Tachileik was to be the site of a triumphant gathering of the Thaksin faithful, known as red shirts, and the closest Thaksin has come to Thailand since he fled into exile in Dubai in 2008 to avoid corruption charges.

Now, those hotel reservations have been cancelled. Thaksin in the capital, Naypyidaw, today but he will fly out of the country immediately afterwards and the red shirts will stay home.

Thailand's deputy prime minister Chalerm Yoobamrung said on Tuesday that an ethnic Shan man had been arrested in Tachileik after being found in possession of rocket-propelled grenades. The suspect is alleged to have said they were to be used to target Thaksin and that the assassination bid had been planned in Thailand.

Yet while Thaksin has no shortage of enemies, many in Thailand believe that the supposed plot is a fabrication and just the latest chapter in the ongoing battle between the Thaksin camp and their opponents for control of the country. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the current prime minister.

Officials in Myanmar believe there was no plan to kill Thaksin. They said that the suspect was simply smuggling arms, a common occurrence in Tachileik, a town notorious as a conduit for drugs and weapons flowing in and out of the Golden Triangle region.

"This has nothing to do with Mr Thaksin. There is absolutely no plot to assassinate Mr Thaksin," said police Major Min Kyaw Thu in Naypyidaw, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Thai defence minister Sukumpol Suwanatat also denied there was any connection between the arms seizure in Tachileik and the cancellation of Thaksin's proposed visit.

"From what I have learned the two incidents were not related," Sukumpol told a news conference. "If someone insists there is such a link, that is their opinion. But we all know what the truth is." In the opaque, rumour-laden world of Thai politics, though, all that is certain is that six years after Thaksin was ousted from power in an army coup Thailand remains deeply divided. For the rural poor, Thaksin is a hero for his populist policies. To others, his tenure as premier between 2001 and 2006 was a corrupt near-dictatorship which threatened the power and status of the royal family and the military.

For all the criticism, Thaksin remains Thailand's most successful politician, having won three general elections.

The fight between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps has intensified sharply in recent weeks as Yingluck continues to confound her critics and solidify her grip on power. Widely regarded as her brother's proxy, Yingluck last week promoted Thaksin loyalists to the cabinet, and others to senior positions in the civil service and police.

In response, a new opposition grouping named Protect Siam has begun staging rallies in a bid to force her Peua Thai party from power. Later this month she faces a censure debate in the Thai Parliament called by the opposition Democrat Party in response to what they say is her poor handling of government affairs.