By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court on Monday issued an arrest warrant for fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after he failed to turn up for a defamation case filed against him by the army.
The ruling would appear to mean little as Thaksin lives abroad anyway to abroad to avoid a jail sentence handed down in 2008 for graft, but it is another setback for the former telecoms tycoon with some seeing it as the latest attempt to ensure he never returns to power.
Three governments backed by Thaksin have been forced to step down by the courts or military since 2006.
Thaksin is accused of defaming the military during interviews given to a South Korean newspaper in May that were later posted on YouTube.
In rare comments to foreign media, Thaksin accused the military of being part of a conspiracy that overthrew Thaksin's sister, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in 2014, days before a bloodless military coup.
"The accused did not come to the meeting so a warrant was issued as the court saw he was not in the country even though an appointment was made for the first hearing," Major General Sarayuth Klinmahom, director of the Office of the Judge-Advocate of the Royal Thai Army, told reporters.
Thaksin himself was ousted by the army in 2006. Since then, the country has been divided between his supporters and the Bangkok-based elite which sees him as a threat to the old royalist-military establishment.
For more than a decade, the country has seen at times violent street protests from both Thaksin supporters and their opponents.
Thaksin, whose parties have won every election since 2001, tapped into the changing aspirations of the working class.
But his popularity with Bangkok's middle class soon waned and he was accused of vote-buying and harboring republican sympathies, among other accusations, all of which he denies.
From his base in Dubai, Thaksin travels frequently to Africa and Asia where he has business interests.
Yingluck swept to power in 2011 on a wave of rural support but was ordered to step down after a court found her guilty of abusing power.
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Nick Macfie)