BANGKOK (AFP) — Deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will return to Thailand from a self-imposed exile before May, the kingdom's new foreign minister said Friday.
"Definitely he will return before May and his legal team will work out an exact date," Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama told reporters.
Until he was sworn in as a cabinet member on Wednesday, Noppadon had been a personal lawyer for Thaksin, ousted by the army in a coup in September 2006.
Since then, the former prime minister has been living in exile, mainly in Hong Kong and London. His wife Pojaman last month told a court that Thaksin would return to Thailand in May.
The former first couple face corruption charges filed by the previous military government. Pojaman, who returned from Hong Kong in early January, appeared at the Supreme Court and pleaded not guilty in a statement.
The new foreign minister said Thaksin had called to congratulate him on his new job.
Noppadon was one of several close aides to Thaksin who joined the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, taking key posts including the finance minister and deputy prime minister.
Thaksin's allies were voted back into power in December in the first elections since the bloodless coup.
Samak told reporters that his government had no involvement in planning Thaksin's return, but said the former premier should receive a fair trial when he goes to court.
"He wants to defend himself, but some have their own prejudices against him. There are people who think they are above the judges, and I don't think that's right or appropriate," he said.
Thailand's army chief, General Anupong Paojinda, said he did not believe that Thaksin's return would spark new protests like the street demonstrations that precipitated the coup.
"I don't think his return will cause any conflicts among Thais. Our country had suffered huge losses, so people should put their personal issues behind them," he told reporters.
Popular protests, led mainly by Bangkok's middle class, had rattled Bangkok for months in early 2006 with demands for Thaksin to resign over allegations of corruption.
The leaders of the protests have already threatened to return to the streets if the new government interferes in the court cases against Thaksin.