Thaksin to speak to US panel: official
Tue, Dec 07, 2010

BANGKOK, Dec 7, 2010 (AFP) - Thailand's fugitive former prime minister is to give evidence to a US government human rights panel on deadly "Red Shirt" anti-government protests in the kingdom, officials have confirmed.

Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup and lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, has been a vocal critic of the Thai government response to the Bangkok rallies, which saw dozens killed in clashes.

The former billionaire telecoms tycoon's invitation to Washington comes after the United States' protracted legal battle for the extradition of alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was eventually extradited last month.

It is unclear whether Thailand will ask for Thaksin's extradition should he set foot on US soil, although Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has rejected suggestions that there was a deal to swap the ex-leader for Bout.

Neil Simon, spokesman for the Helsinki Commission, an official US watchdog overseeing human rights and other issues, confirmed late Monday that the event was planned for December 16.

In a letter to the former premier, the panel said the "recent crackdown on political protesters" was of "particular interest".

Thaksin drew wide support from Thailand's rural poor when he was in office and is still held in high regard by many Red Shirts, who accuse the current government of being elitist and undemocratic.

The Reds' rally demanding immediate elections overwhelmed the retail heart of Bangkok for two months before a military crackdown brought the demonstration to a bloody end in May.

More than 90 people were left dead and nearly 1,900 injured in unrest during the protests and many of those killed were civilians.

"I welcome the fact that the US authorities have recognized that the horrific human rights atrocities that occurred in April and May this year are to be fully and independently investigated," Thaksin said in a statement responding to the invitation.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Tuesday authorities were considering whether to send a representative to testify at the hearing.

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