BANGKOK, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Thailand’s military government suspended a nine-year-old exchange programme with Singapore on Tuesday in protest at a meeting between ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and one of the city-state’s cabinet ministers.
Having dressed down Singapore’s ambassador on Thaksin’s visit, Bangkok tore up its invitation to Foreign Minister George Yeo to a joint meeting of civil servants at the end of this month — a measure of the growing bad blood between the Southeast Asian allies.
Singapore said Thaksin’s weekend talks with Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar were private, but Thailand’s ruling generals, who cancelled his diplomatic passport less than a week ago, were not persuaded of its innocence.
“The Royal Thai Government was dissatisfied with the incident and the explanation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kitti Wasinondh told reporters after Chan was summoned to hear a protest.
Thaksin also used his Singapore visit to give his first televised interview since his removal in a military coup on Sept. 19. He has spent most of his time since then in exile in London or Beijing, where he had declined interview requests.
The billionaire businessman, who won election landslides in 2001 and 2005 before opponents started a street campaign against him, promised to quit politics and return to private life for good.
However, no Thais got to see him telling CNN “enough is enough” as cable television operators complied with a directive from the Council for National Security (CNS) — as the generals who ousted him now call themselves — not to air Thaksin footage.
“We have sought cooperation and given guidelines to television operators on how to keep stability and unity in the country,” CNS leader and army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin told Channel 3 television. “It is their decision.”
No television station aired the interview, but some morning news bulletins read out international news agency reports of the interview published in the domestic press.
Thaksin denied any involvement in New Year’s Eve bombs in Bangkok that killed three people. The army and its appointed government have stopped short of blaming Thaksin explicitly, but have blamed the eight blasts on “politicians who lost power”.
Thaksin appealed to be allowed to return home to defend his name in person. Sonthi knocked down his request.
“Our national reconciliation is gradually improving, which is what we all would like to see. His return won’t do the country any good,” he said.
Staff at CNN in Bangkok, which is still officially under martial law imposed after the coup, said they had received a number of anonymous phone calls on Tuesday apparently aimed at unsettling Thai employees.
In a separate interview with the Wall Street Journal, Thaksin accused “the old elite” of being behind the coup — an apparent swipe at the Privy Council, the secretive panel which advises revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
He also said the interim, post-coup administration, which introduced capital controls in December to stem a rise in the baht and then tightened up foreign investment laws, was taking the country down the road to economic isolation.
“Whether we like it or not, we have to live under a capitalist system,” Thaksin told the newspaper. “And to live in it successfully, we have to open up our economy and society. Competition is unavoidable, so we have to prepare for it.”
Thai media had reported Thaksin also met with Wong Kan Seng, another deputy prime minister, in Singapore but this has not been confirmed.