Bangkok: Emerging from weeks of silence,
fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has
appeared in Africa, where he says he is dealing in diamonds
and visiting Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.
A photo of his meeting with the former South African
president was released in Thailand by Thaksin`s lawyer in an
apparent move to quash rumors that the divisive ex-prime
minister is ill and to advertise that he`s rubbing shoulders
with VIPs abroad.
"I travel all the time. Currently, I`m in Africa for
diamond mining," Thaksin told the Thai Rath newspaper in an
interview published today. He did not specify if he was still
in South Africa. He said rumors of his failing health were
The Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg confirmed
that the visit took place last Friday.
"It was not a meeting, it was a courtesy call," spokesman
Sello Hatang said. He said he did not know what they
Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006. He is
widely accused of funding anti-government "Red Shirt" protests
in April and May that occupied Bangkok`s main retail district,
forcing the closure of major shopping malls and hotels. The
protesters were seeking to unseat the current government and
possibly bring Thaksin back to power. Sporadic violence and a
crackdown by the military left 91 people dead and 1,4000
The tycoon-turned-politician remains popular among his
rural poor power base but was convicted on conflict of
interest charges in 2008 and fled the country. Thailand
revoked his passports but Thaksin has acquired at least two
new ones from Nicaragua and Montenegro.