Thai crimes endanger Saudi ties

FACED with Saudi Arabian anger over incidents that have bedevilled bilateral relations, Thailand is resorting to explanations as bizarre as the incidents themselves, writes Raymond Whitaker.

The Saudis are upset over the murder of four of their officials in Bangkok in 1989 and 1990, the subsequent disappearance and probable killing of a Saudi businessman and the theft of jewellery from a prince's household by a Thai servant, not to mention the return of fake jewels by the police. What has driven them close to apoplexy, however, is the unwillingness or inability of the Thai authorities to clear up these matters.

According to press reports, the Saudi charge d'affaires in Bangkok, Mohammed Said Khoja, has threatened to recommend to his government that the embassy be closed. Riyadh has already begun refusing visas to all Thais except Muslims on pilgrimages to Mecca.

Observers believe, that the killings, as well as the disappearance of the Saudi businessman, were connected with the lucrative recruitment trade. At the time there were 100,000 Thais working in Saudi Arabia, many of whom had paid large sums to recruitment agencies.

This week the Prime Minister, Chuan Leekpai, said it might have to admit suspects for the killings could not be found. But yesterday the Interior Ministry came up with a new explanation: terrorists were responsible after all, though without offering evidence.