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Thai coup leader warns Thaksin not to return without permission

THAILAND: The leader of last month's coup again warned ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra Friday not to try to return home, one day after admitting that graft probes against him had made little headway.

"We have to be consulted first if former prime minister Thaksin wants to return to Thailand," General Sonthi Boonyaratglin told reporters.

The remarks echoed comments he made in a newspaper interview published Thursday, when he admitted investigators had yet to turn up solid evidence to support corruption charges against Thaksin.

Sonthi has repeatedly justified the military's September 19 takeover by claiming that rampant corruption during Thaksin's five years in office had undermined democracy.

But he said in The Nation newspaper Thursday that "it will be difficult to implicate him" in major corruption cases.

"I am not sure how far the Office of the Auditor General can investigate suspected corruption cases involving him. They might get nowhere at all," he was quoted as saying.

The remarks came amid growing criticism of the junta and rumors that Thaksin might try to return to Thailand from London, where he has lived in exile since shortly after the coup.

Thaksin's wife, Pojaman, met with former prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, a top adviser to Thailand's revered king, reportedly to seek permission for his return.

Prem, who is believed to have played a prominent role in the coup, told her that Thaksin should accept his fate, according to a general who attended the meeting, Thai newspapers reported Thursday.

Thailand's new Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who was installed by Sonthi earlier this month, told reporters late Thursday his government would try to dissuade Thaksin from returning.

"I think that we will discuss this with him to give him a better understanding of when would be an appropriate time for him to return," Surayud said.

Defense Minister Boonrawd Somtas said "Thaksin should realize that this is not yet the suitable time", because the military still had security fears over a possible anti-coup movement.

"The decision on this issue is entirely up to Sonthi," he added.

While the coup has enjoyed general support from the public, criticism has grown, especially since Sonthi last week appointed a parliament stacked with members close to Prem.

Bangkok, Friday, AFP

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