BANGKOK — Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha apologized Thursday for comments he made about the safety of foreign tourists wearing bikinis following the killings of two British backpackers on the resort island Koh Tao.
“They think our country is so beautiful and safe they can wear a bikini everywhere,” Prayuth said in a speech to government officials Wednesday that touched on tourist safety. “Will it be safe wearing a bikini, unless you are not beautiful? But all of you in this room are beautiful.”
The comments by Prayuth, who seized power in a May 22 coup and has since taken the post of prime minister, received widespread attention in the international press.
“I apologize for causing misunderstanding,” Prayuth told reporters Thursday in Bangkok. “I feel sorry for them and about the incident. I don’t want to see further losses.”
The deaths of the two tourists and the handling of the case — including the publication in local media of photos of the victims’ bodies and their passport information — has threatened further damage to a tourism industry already reeling from political unrest, the military takeover and martial law. The number of tourists arriving in Thailand in the first half of the year declined 9.9 percent from the year before to 11.8 million, the Tourism Council of Thailand said in July. Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of the Thai economy.
Prayuth is known for unscripted comments and sarcastic remarks. In a speech this week, he said rubber farmers being hurt by low prices because of oversupply and continued expansion might have to sell their products to Mars.
“I assure you that Thailand is safe,” Prayuth told the reporters Thursday. “Still, there are bad people everywhere, so we have to be careful. Safety standards here and in their countries may not be the same, and I’m worried about that.”
Police say 23-year-old Hannah Witheridge died of head wounds, while 24-year-old David Miller suffered severe blows to the head and drowned in the surf. Maj. Gen. Pornchai Suteerakune, the country’s forensics police chief, on Wednesday said Miller also had wounds on his hand, indicating that a struggle had taken place.
The two Britons were found Monday morning in a rocky alcove along the shore close to the hotel where they both were staying on Koh Tao. A bloodied hoe was found near the bodies.
Authorities are hoping to match DNA samples from the crime scene. However, Gen. Jarumporn Suramanee, the assistant national police chief, on Wednesday said two sets of DNA that were found both on Witheridge’s body and a cigarette butt nearby did not match samples taken from three foreigners and nine migrant workers in the area.
Jarumporn said investigators believe that there was more than one attacker and more than one murder weapon.