NEW YORK : The tense relations between Thailand and Saudi Arabia is likely to ease somewhat after the official bilateral talks were held for the first time in more than two decades.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul yesterday met Saudi Arabian Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
A source in the Foreign Ministry said that Thai representatives approached their Saudi Arabian counterparts to discuss the resumption of relations _ this was the first time in 21 years that Saudi Arabia has agreed to hold official bilateral talks with the Thai government.
The last high-ranking official to talk officially with Saudi Arabia was Asa Sarasin, former permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry.
Bilateral ties have been strained due to a series of incidents: the theft of gems belonging to the Saudi royal family by a Thai employee in 1989, the murders in 1989 and 1990 of four Saudi diplomats in Bangkok and the disappearance in 1990 of Saudi businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili, who lived in Thailand at the time.
Mr Surapong said the Saudi Arabian government wants more information about those unresolved cases.
Mr Surapong told Prince Abdulaziz that the government recently appointed him as head of a committee to follow up on the controversial incidents and he was ready to work with other agencies to move the cases forward.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in August ordered a committee established to oversee Saudi-related crime cases. The panel is chaired by Mr Surapong, with Justice Minister Pol Gen Pracha Promnok as deputy.
The committee will integrate the work of various agencies pursuing the cases, a government source said. The panel will also try to move towards restoring relations between Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
Mr Surapong said the statute of limitations in some cases had expired, such as the stolen gems case. But if the Saudi government had new information about the case, the two sides could cooperate.
“No conditions have been set at this time to resume relations, as more time is needed,” said Mr Surapong.
Thawee Sodsong, director of the the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre, took a team to Saudi Arabia recently to inform the Saudis about the work of Thai authorities.
Pol Col Tawee said he recently visited Saudi Arabia to clarify the status of the investigations into the crimes against influential Saudis in Thailand.
He was accompanied by officials who have worked on the cases, including DSI deputy chief Narat Sawettanan, Corrections Department director-general Suchart Wonganantachai and senior Muslim politician Wan Muhammad Nor Matha.