Laos and Cambodia will welcome with open arms fugitive ex-Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra this month as he uses the two countries to meet with tens of thousands of his supporters.
A Lao official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the authorities would go all out to protect Thaksin’s supporters, known as the “Red Shirts,” during the former prime minister’s three-day visit to the Lao capital beginning Wednesday.
"We will step up inspections and controls, and make sure that everything is carried out according to the rules. We have an inspection unit that will be monitoring the situation,” the Lao official said Monday ahead of the rally.
“No problem—the Red Shirts can enter Laos with proper documentation and enjoy the New Year celebrations.”
Both of the visits by Thaksin, who is wanted on corruption charges in his homeland, will take place during Songkran, or Thai New Year, celebrations.
Residents of the Lao capital said they were also all set to warmly greet the tens of thousands of Red Shirts planning to come for the rally, where Thaksin is expected to address them.
“We Laotians welcome the Red Shirts who will be visiting our country,” said one resident of Vientiane.
Following his visit to Vientiane, Thaksin will travel to Siem Reap in Cambodia, where Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday he expects “more than tens of thousands” of supporters to attend a rally over the weekend for the former leader who “cannot enter his motherland.”
Thaksin is a close friend of Hun Sen, and the two leaders are scheduled to play golf in Phnom Penh on April 16 after the Siem Reap rally.
The Bangkok Post last month quoted Nisit Sinthuphrai, a leader of the Red Shirt movement working to bring Thaksin home, as saying that about 50,000 Thaksin backers would gather at a sports stadium in the northeastern Thai province of Nong Khai on April 11 and then cross the Mekong River to the Lao capital the next morning.
Thaksin remains a controversial figure in Thailand where he is simultaneously adored by the masses and detested by the urban elite, who view him as a threat to the country’s monarchy.
The former leader cannot enter Thailand without fear of serving a two-year prison sentence after being convicted of graft in absentia.
Thaksin, who was deposed following a coup by Royalist generals in 2006 and who fled the country in 2008, denies the charges and contends that they are politically motivated.
Still, mass rallies held in his name in 2010 led to the country’s worst political violence in decades, with more than 90 people killed in a military crackdown on the capital Bangkok.
His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected Thailand’s prime minister last year in a resounding victory for his political allies that some have suggested may pave the way for Thaksin’s return to the country.
The former premier currently lives in Dubai, but frequently travels to Thailand’s neighbors in Asia and even worked as an economic adviser to Hun Sen in 2010.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.