Thai policeman declines promotion to help Saudi ties: Govt

A senior Thai policeman charged with the murder of a Saudi businessman 20 years ago declined promotion to a top position on Wednesday in a bid to defuse tensions between the two countries.

Last Updated: Sep 22, 2010, 18:21 PM IST

Bangkok: A senior Thai policeman charged
with the murder of a Saudi businessman 20 years ago declined
promotion to a top position on Wednesday in a bid to defuse tensions
between the two countries.

The recent advancement of Lieutenant General Somkid Boonthanom to assistant national police chief deeply riled
Saudi Arabia because of his indictment for the murder of
Mohammad al-Ruwaily, who disappeared in 1990.
"His decision will make it easy to solve the problem
between Thailand and Saudi Arabia," Thai deputy Prime Minister
Suthep Thaugsuban told reporters after Somkid`s announcement.

His refusal of the post is the latest twist in a
bloody saga that has soured relations between Bangkok and
Riyadh for two decades, sparked by the theft of gems from a
Saudi prince`s palace.

The case has been linked to the deaths of three Saudi
diplomats and the wife and daughter of a jewellery dealer, as
well as the death of businessman al-Ruwaily, whom Somkid and
four fellow officers are accused of murdering.

In a statement released Sunday, the Saudi charge
d`affaires in Bangkok, Nabil Ashri, said the move to promote
someone charged with murder was "utterly incomprehensible".

He urged Thai authorities "to take the necessary
measures to mend diplomatic ties with the kingdom of Saudi
Arabia", noting that the case of al-Ruwaily "has dragged on
long enough".
After Somkid`s promotion, the Saudi embassy was
accused of delaying the granting of visas to Thai Muslims
wanting to make the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, but it
blamed technical problems for the hold-up, Thai media
reported.

One of Thailand`s biggest mysteries, the al-Ruwaily
case stemmed from the jailing of a Thai janitor for stealing
gems worth USD 20 million in 1989 from the Saudi palace where
he worked, before smuggling them back to Thailand.

Police recovered most of the jewellery but much of
what was returned to the Saudi owner proved to be fake and
many pieces are still missing.

As the Saudis pressed Thai authorities to find the
rest of the hoard, the three Saudi diplomats were shot dead in
two separate incidents in a single day in 1989.

Somkid, who at the time ran Bangkok`s southern
district, and the other four policemen are accused of
abducting al-Ruwaily in 1990 because they thought he was
connected with the deaths of the envoys.

The five suspects detained him in a hotel and tortured
him before shooting him dead and disposing of his body, their
indictment said.

PTI