PM says Thailand not always safe for tourists after murder of Britons

Rescue workers close bags with bodies of two foreign tourist found dead on a beach on Koh Tao island September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer
Rescue workers close bags with bodies of two foreign tourist found dead on a beach on Koh Tao island September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

By Kaweewit Kaewjinda

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's prime minister said on Tuesday the country was not always as safe for foreign visitors as their homelands, after the murder of two British tourists dealt a blow to the southeast Asian nation's image.

The tourist industry accounts for 10 percent of Thailand's economy and it has yet to recover from a slump in visitors during months of sometimes bloody protests on the streets of Bangkok that preceded a military coup in May.

Police said the bodies of Britons David Miller and Hannah Witheridge were found naked with grisly wounds early on Monday on a beach on Koh Tao, a southern island famous for coral reefs and diving.

The bodies have been sent to Bangkok for autopsy and preliminary results of the examination could be released later on Tuesday, a police adviser said.

The story of the murder would have "all sorts of consequences" for Thailand, said Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, whose coup toppled the remnants of a democratic government.

"We have ordered police and soldiers to hunt down the suspects," Prayuth told reporters.

"What you (the media) need to do is explain to foreigners that it is not always safe everywhere. They think it's safe like where they are from, everywhere and at any time, but our country still has problems."

Thailand is still under martial law after the May 22 coup. That has kept away some visitors, as they are unable to buy travel insurance for destinations where martial law is in place.

The number of visitors to Thailand fell more than 10 percent in the first eight months of 2014 from a year ago to 15.7 million.

Prayuth said he had no plans to lift martial law. The military government had considered lifting it in tourist areas, but the general said he was still concerned about online activity that criticises the coup.

"Everything seems to be in order on the ground, but there is still movement on computers and websites," Prayuth said.

After the coup, the military government detained hundreds of activists, academics, journalists and politicians, leading to criticism from allies in the West.

Police said a hoe was believed to have been used by the attackers to bludgeon the young British victims.

A British consular official from Bangkok is in Koh Tao working with authorities, the British Embassy said.

"The embassy is urgently seeking information from the local authorities and consular staff are providing assistance to friends and family," it said in a statement.

(Reporting by Kaweewit Kaewjinda; Editing by Simon Webb and Clarence Fernandez)