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Archive for September 22, 2010

Newsline: Thai officer turns down promotion for sake of Saudi relations

A senior Thai police officer on Wednesday turned down his controversial promotion as deputy police chief which had threatened already poor relations with Saudi Arabia. A decision to promote Police Lieutenant General Somkid Boonthanom, who was indicted this year for his alleged role in the murder of a Saudi businessman in Bangkok 20 years ago, prompted an immediate complaint from Saudi charge d’affaires Nabil Ashri in Bangkok. “It is utterly incomprehensible that a person charged by the highest state justice authority with a serious crime such as murder be considered for promotion,” Ashri said. Somkid’s promotion as assistant national police chief was to go into effect on October 1. He is a younger brother of General Somchet Boonthanom, who was secretary general for the Council of National Security that staged a coup in 2006. “I have decided not to accept the promotion,” Somkid told a press conference. “This seems to be the best way out.” Thailand’s Muslim community had expressed fears that Somkid’s controversial promotion may lead to restrictions on visas granted to attend the Haj in November. The Saudi embassy last week requested 392 Thai Muslims return their passports as a “clerical mistake” had been made in granting them visas, raising fears that some 10,000 Thais hoping to make the pilgrimage would be denied visas. “The visas were approved Tuesday, before Somkid’s announcement,” said Thani Thongpakdi, spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry. The ministry insisted that Saudi Arabia had not threatened to deny visas to Thais as result of strained ties. The attorney general in January indicted him as one of five serving and former officers in the murder of a Saudi businessman allegedly linked to the theft of a Saudi prince’s 50-carat blue diamond and other jewellery. The five officers were charged with involvement in the murder of Mohammad al-Ruwaili, who went missing in Bangkok in 1990. Thailand’s diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia have been poor for the past two decades because of successive governments’ failure to solve the al-Ruwaili case and the murders of three Saudi diplomats. The Saudis are also awaiting the return of millions of dollars of jewellery stolen from the home of Prince Faisal Bin Abdul Ra-ish in Riyadh in 1989, including the blue diamond. From June to August 1989, Thai janitor Kriangkrai Techamong stole an estimated 502 million baht (15 million dollars) of jewellery from the prince’s Riyadh palace and managed to post it to Thailand before returning home himself. The theft prompted a Saudi investigation in Bangkok that has been linked to the slaying of the three diplomats and the disappearance of al-Ruwaili. Thai police arrested Kriangkrai, who confessed to the thefts and went to prison. Thai authorities retrieved many of the stolen gems, but when it was returned to Saudi Arabia, many of the items proved to be imitations, including the blue diamond. Saudi Arabia downgraded diplomatic relations with Thailand in 1990 over the unsolved cases, refusing to allow Thai labourers to work in the country and barring Saudi tourists from visiting Thailand.