Thai PM cancels Russia trip, defends Bout decision

18th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva abruptly cancelled a trip to Russia on Thursday and defended his decision to extradite an alleged arms dealer to the United States which outraged Moscow.

Thailand expelled Viktor Bout, who is suspected of being one of the world's biggest arms traffickers, to face trial in the United States after a prolonged legal battle and fierce opposition from his home country Russia.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva insisted the decision to send Bout to the US on Tuesday was not made under pressure from Washington and blamed Russia for failing to robustly contest the case.

He has since cancelled a trip to Saint Petersburg to attend a summit on tigers, although he said this was to discuss constitutional amendments and denied any link to the extradition.

"The foreign minister and I suggested how Russia should fight the case but they failed to act. You have to ask Russia why they did not take action," he told reporters.

Abhisit expressed hope that Russia would not let the case affect its relationship with Thailand.

"Russia must take overall relations into consideration and it's not good to allow one single issue to affect ties," he said, adding that he had told the Russian president that he would not be able to attend the upcoming meeting.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is due to host the four-day summit, which begins on Sunday and aims to halt the decline of the big cats.

Bout's sudden extradition came shortly after the Thai cabinet approved his handover in a move that prompted fresh fury from Moscow, which had vowed to do all it could to bring him home.

The Russian foreign ministry said his extradition was "illegal" and prompted by US pressure.

A top Russian diplomat in New York, where the suspect pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges on Wednesday, has also accused Thai authorities of taking away all of Bout's personal possessions.

The 43-year-old former Soviet air force pilot had been fighting extradition on terrorism charges since his March 2008 arrest after a sting operation in Bangkok involving undercover US agents posing as Colombian FARC rebels.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya denied the extradition would hurt ties with Russia.

"We still enjoy a cordial relationship with Russia. We should not let this single issue affect it," he told reporters.

© 2010 AFP

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