Gotabaya Rajapaksa is staying at a hotel here in the heart of Thailand’s capital, where police have advised the ousted Sri Lankan president to remain indoors for security reasons, according to a media report on Friday.
Rajapaksa arrived in Thailand with three other people on a chartered flight from Singapore at Wing 6 of the military airport adjacent to Don Mueang International Airport around 8 pm local time on Thursday.
The group had planned to land in Phuket but concerns about a possible information leak resulted in the flight being redirected to the military airport in Bangkok, the Bangkok Post newspaper reported, citing a source.
At the hotel, the location of which was not disclosed, plainclothes police officers from the Special Branch Bureau have been deployed to ensure the safety of Rajapaksa. Officials have asked the embattled former Sri Lankan president to remain within the hotel during his stay in the country, the report said.
Rajapaksa arrived in Bangkok on the same day that his visa in Singapore expired. He arrived here for a temporary stay before seeking permanent asylum in another country.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday confirmed a temporary visit to Thailand by the 73-year-old Sri Lankan leader for humanitarian reasons and said he promised not to conduct political activities in the kingdom during his search for permanent asylum in another country.
After fleeing to the Maldives on July 13, Rajapaksa then flew to Singapore, where he announced his resignation a day later after months of protests over Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis.
"This is a humanitarian issue. We have made a promise that it's a temporary stay. No (political) activities are allowed, and this will help him find a country to take refuge in," Prayut was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post newspaper on Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said the ousted president can stay in Thailand for 90 days as he is still a diplomatic passport holder, the report said.
Don said the Sri Lankan government did not oppose the visit and the Thai government would not make accommodation arrangements for him. The visit would not pose conflicts with Colombo as acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe had worked for him when he was in power, he added.
The minister said a condition for Rajapaksa’s stay was that he should not cause problems for Thailand. Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comments since fleeing Sri Lanka. A report in the Daily Mirror newspaper in Sri Lanka said Rajapaksa will return to Sri Lanka in November after his 90-day Thai visa runs out.
The Sri Lankan government had directly appealed on behalf of the ousted President and sought permission to allow him to seek temporary shelter in Thailand, the report said.
However, as the 90-day Thai visa runs out in November, political sources said that Rajapaksa will return to Sri Lanka as he was a Sri Lankan citizen and had all the legal rights to remain in the country. Although several attempts had been made for Rajapaksa to seek asylum in the Middle East, he had not received any favourable response, the report said.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.
The massive protests that began in March culminated with Rajapaksa’s resignation. The protesters accused the Rajapaksa family, which has dominated Sri Lanka's political scene for nearly two decades, of plunging the country into the worst economic crisis since the country’s independence in 1948 through mismanagement and corruption.
The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.
The United Nations has warned that 5.7 million people “require immediate humanitarian assistance,” with Sri Lankans experiencing extreme shortages of essentials including food, fuel and medicines.
The new Sri Lankan government led by Rajapaksa’s ally Wickremesinghe faces the task of leading the country out of its economic collapse and restoring order. Sri Lanka has seen months of mass unrest over the worst economic crisis, with the government declaring bankruptcy in mid-April by refusing to honour its international debts.