Former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has touched down in Thailand, according the three Reuters eyewitnesses, after his visa ran out following a month-long stint in Singapore.
Rajapaksa arrived at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport in a private jet around 8pm local time on Thursday, a senior Thai official told AFP – making Thailand the second South-East Asian country to offer him shelter on a “humanitarian basis” since he fled Sri Lanka in July.
He left the airport’s VIP section around 40 minutes later with his wife and got into a black sedan, local media reported.
Rajapaksa first fled to Singapore via the Maldives on July 14 amid mass protests calling for his resignation over economic corruption and mismanagement of the island-nation’s Covid-19 response which collectively forced the country into the worst economic recession faced in 70 years.
He is also the first Sri Lankan president to quit midterm.
“His Singapore visa runs out on Thursday,” a close associate of Rajapaksa told AFP in Colombo on Wednesday.
“He had applied for an extension, but it had not come through as of Wednesday morning.”
Thai authorities stated that the former military officer had no intention of seeking political asylum and would only stay temporarily.
“This is a humanitarian issue and there is an agreement that it‘s a temporary stay,” prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on Wednesday.
However, Rajapaksa will not be permitted to engage in any political activities while staying in Thailand, Prayuth added.
Thailand’s foreign minister Don Pramudwinai said the Sri Lankan government supported Rajapaksa’s trip to Thailand and that Rajapaksa’s diplomatic passport would permit him to stay for 90 days.
“The Thai side received a request for the former president to enter Thailand from the current government of Sri Lanka,” ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said in a statement.
“The stay is temporary in nature with the aim of onward travel. No political asylum has been sought.”
A source also told AFP that Rajapaksa intended to return to Singapore after his stay in Thailand.
They also said that the former leader was keen to go home as protests against his administration had fizzled out, but his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe had advised him against an early return.
Rajapaksa has avoided making any public appearances since fleeing Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s economy has collapsed under the weight of a $75 billion debt – as a result of a deadly combination of unnecessary infrastructure developments, banning of chemical fertiliser, mass printing of money, tax cuts and the mismanagement of Covid-19 implemented by Rajapaksa.