LONDON - The day before, he had been Prime Minister of his country and about to address the United Nations in New York. Yesterday, Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in London amid official confusion over his new status as "a private citizen".

Despite the Thai Embassy and the Foreign Office stressing that Thaksin was now a private citizen on a personal visit, he was accorded a VIP welcome when he arrived at Gatwick from New York.

As he left his chartered Thai Airlines Airbus he placed his hands together as if in the traditional Thai greeting. Surrounded by an entourage, he waved to onlookers, got into a black Mercedes with the registration number THAI 1 and was driven to the VIP reception suite, normally used by the Royal Family and visiting dignataries. The reception was organised by the Thai Embassy but indicated a certain confusion. Earlier, a spokesman had said Thaksin was on a "private visit" with which it had no involvement.

"I was Prime Minister when I came, and I was jobless on the way back," the Thai News Agency quoted him as saying. "I volunteered to work for the country, but if they don't want me to do that, I won't."

Last night, he was believed to be staying with members of his family at a flat he owns in Chelsea. His eldest daughter has been studying in London and his wife is believed to have been on a visit to Paris. The whereabouts of the other two children are unknown.

The Foreign Office said Thaksin was on a normal visa but that details were confidential.