Chiangrai Times – Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung has urged police to treat their investigation into the murder of an Australian woman as a matter of urgency so as to protect Thailand’s image.
Mr Chalerm said Friday Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had assigned him to oversee the safety of Thai and foreign tourists after Michelle Smith, 60, was stabbed to death on Wednesday night.
Mr Chalerm said he had told Pol Lt Gen Santi Pensuit, commissioner of Provincial Police Region 8, which covers the southern provinces, to apprehend the two suspects as quickly as possible.
National police chief Gen Priewpan Damapong had also ordered his deputy, Pol Gen Pansiri Prapawat, to oversee the case in the area, Mr Chalerm said.
He adding that the government regarded this case as “a significant issue”.
Phuket police’s deputy commissioner Pol Col Peerayuth Karachedi said four witnesses have already been questioned.
The license plate of the motorcycle on which the attackers escaped was captured on CCTV footage and that line of inquiry would be investigated, he said.
According to the preliminary probe, the killers are likely to be members of a motorcycle gang known for committing robberies around Phuket.
Phuket deputy governor Chamroen Thippongthada said the province would send letters of condolence to the families of the victim and the injured woman.
Authorities will be called to an urgent meeting to discuss the incident and any preventive measures that could be implemented to prevent repeat attacks, Mr Chamroen said.
Australia’s honorary consul Larry Cunningham visited Ms Lee and viewed the body of the murdered woman.
He was ready to cooperate with police investigators and had contacted the victim’s family in Perth, Mr Cunningham said.
Tourism Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa said after meeting Mr Chalerm that the incident has damaged tourists’ confidence in Thailand, as well as the country’s overseas image.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Tourist Police Division will devise measures to improve tourist safety, Mr Chumpol said.
Phuket Tourist Association president Somboon Chirayus said the incident had had a tremendous impact on the province’s image and directly affected tourism there. Many overseas travel agents had asked him about the attack.
Mr Somboon said Australian tourists are an important market, but so far no tour group had been cancelled. Current accommodation bookings remain at 50% of availability.
He also said he wanted to see more police assigned to provide safety for tourists in Phuket and more CCTV cameras to be installed in some areas.
An arrest is imminent in the killing of Phuket tourist Michelle Smith as police offered a 300,000-baht ($9361) reward and Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, promised to end “mafia” rip-offs.