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Thailand's most wanted man invited to Washington, where enemies hope he will face extradition.
Human Rights Watch has counted more than 2,200 killings from Thaksin’s 2003 “war on drugs,” a violent police crackdown on a methamphetamine epidemic. Thai Muslims associate him with the 2004 “Tak Bai Massacre,” an army operation that rounded up Islamic protesters into trucks, where more than 80 suffocated in the heat. His critics further accuse Thaksin of manipulating the law to secure benefits for his cronies and relatives.
Still, concerns that Thaksin will erase his own misdeeds and dupe the U.S. are “pessimistic,” said Thani Thongpakdi, deputy spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We’ve provided the United States with our own information about what’s transpired in Thailand,” Thani said. “We feel our friends in the U.S. will see the broader picture.”
Thailand would not pressure the U.S. to deny Thaksin’s visa or nix the invitation. “It’s up to them,” Thani said.
But Thaksin’s visit also raises the possibility that the U.S., which counts Thailand as its oldest Asian ally, will detain Thaksin and honor a long-standing U.S.-Thai extradition treaty. (Any plans to extradite foreign fugitives cannot be disclosed, said Walter Braunohler, press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.)
Thaksin’s trip follows one of America’s biggest extradition victories in recent years: Thailand’s handover of Russian national Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death” for allegations of global weapons trafficking. Nabbed in Bangkok by American agents posing as Colombian rebels, and later accused of heading a shadowy arms delivery network, Bout was released into U.S. custody only after intense diplomatic pressure.
According to communiques obtained by WikiLeaks, former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric John suggested Thailand’s initial reluctance to turn over Bout contradicted its intense efforts to secure Thaksin’s extradition.
In the cables, the ambassador suggested a phone call to Thailand’s prime minister from U.S. President Barack Obama would help drive home the urgency of Bout’s extradition.
The Thai media has raised suspicions of a behind-the-scenes deal to nab Thaksin in return for Bout. Abhisit, however, dismissed these claims. Abhisit told reporters the two leaders chatted only about Apple’s iPad device at their most recent encounter at the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Japan.
Though no guest of the Helsinki Commission has ever been detained after testifying, Simon said that “people have presented here and gone home to pay a price for it.” Past invites have gone to rights activists operating in Russia, Kazakhstan and Poland.
“We always hope that when they return to their home countries, they’ll be safe, secure and able to express the same things they express here,” he said. “We realize that’s not always the case.”