Thai PM to visit Saudi Arabia for first time in three decades

BANGKOK (BERNAMA) – Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o cha will begin a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia today at the invitation of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The visit – the first by a Thai prime minister in three decades – hints at the restoration of ties following a downgrade in diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1989.

“Prayuth, who is also the Defence Minister, will meet Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to strengthen and promote bilateral relations between the two countries,” said a statement from the Thai Foreign Ministry.

Media reported Saudi Arabia downgraded its diplomatic relations with Bangkok following the theft of jewels worth some USD20 million, including a rare 50-carat blue diamond, in 1989 by a Thai janitor working at the palace of a Saudi prince.

Following the theft – dubbed ‘The Blue Diamond Affair’ – Thai police recovered and returned some of the stolen jewels but Saudi officials claimed that it was mostly fake, while the fate of the rare blue diamond remains a mystery.

To make matters worse, three Saudi diplomats in Thailand were slain the same day in 1990, and Saudi businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili, who was sent to investigate the missing jewellery, was reported to have disappeared in Bangkok.

In 2014, a Thai criminal court dismissed a case against five men – including a senior police officer – charged with murdering Ruwaili.

Saudi Arabia has not sent an ambassador to Thailand for decades and restricts travel between both countries.