Thailand PM cancels Russia trip, Bout link denied
Thailand's prime minister abruptly cancelled an imminent visit to Russia on Thursday, a government spokesman said, just days after the kingdom outraged Moscow by extraditing an alleged arms dealer.
Thailand expelled Viktor Bout, who is suspected of being one of the world's biggest arms traffickers, on Tuesday to face trial in the United States after a prolonged legal battle and fierce opposition from his home country Russia.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has since cancelled a trip to Saint Petersburg to attend a summit on tigers, but spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said this was to discuss constitutional amendments and denied any link to the extradition.
"The prime minister has assigned Suwit Khunkitti, the environmental minister, to attend the summit because next week parliament will debate charter amendments," Panitan told reporters.
"It has nothing to do with the Bout case."
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.
Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya denied the extradition would hurt ties with Russia, despite Moscow's dissatisfaction.
"We still enjoy a cordial relationship with Russia. We should not let this single issue affect it," he told reporters.
© 2010 AFP