BANGKOK (AP) — Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who last month fled anti-government protests in his country, arrived in Thailand on Thursday night on a flight from Singapore, where he had been staying since mid-July.
Thai television stations showed Rajapaksa and a woman believed to be his wife outside the VIP hall at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport being led to a limousine, which then drove off to an undisclosed destination.
Officials in Thailand on Wednesday said they had been asked by the Sri Lankan government to allow him entry, and that he would be permitted to stay temporarily.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he was aware of Rajapaksa’s intended visit and that it was allowed for humanitarian reasons because the former president was seeking asylum in a third country. He did not elaborate but said Rajapaksa would not engage in political activity while in Thailand.
Rajapaksa has made no public comments about his travel plans. After fleeing Sri Lanka last month, he first went to neighboring Maldives in a Sri Lankan military plane and then to Singapore, where his visa expired Thursday. He submitted his resignation only after he left Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankans have staged massive street protests for months demanding democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters who had occupied official offices and residences in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, blame mismanagement and corruption by the Rajapaksa family for the economic crisis that has led to serious shortages of essentials such as medicines, food and fuel. The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanee Sangrat said Wednesday that Rajapaksa's "stay is temporary in nature with the aim of onward travel. No political asylum has been sought.” He said that because the former president held a diplomatic passport, he would be allowed to stay for 90 days without a visa.
In addition to being criticized for mismanaging his country's economy, Rajapaksa has been accused by human rights groups of involvement with war crimes when he was defense secretary during Sri Lanka's civil war, which ended in 2009.