Monday, May 11, 2009

Thailand: Attacks On Foreign Tourists Continue to Be A Concern

Edith Jungen, a Swiss woman in her mid-30s was found dead on a beach in Krabi (Phuket) on May 7, reportedly after being robbed and strangled. 

Ms. Jungen's body was found in very shallow water on Noppharat Beach in Tambon Ao Nang in Krabi's Muang District. 

Jungen was found with the strap of her handbag tied around her neck, as if she had been strangled to death. 

Police said the victim checked in to the Andama Sunset Hotel on May 6, and checked out a day later. Her body was found in water not far from the hotel. According to the Thai National Police, Jungen was overheard by other guests as being concerned about her personal security.

COMMENT: As someone who spent several years as the U.S. Embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO) in Bangkok, and later as a trainer at the US Justice Department's International Law Enforcement Academy in the Thai capital, violent crime against tourists and expatriates has been rising steadily in recent years.

Despite the fact that tourism is one of Thailand's top industries, the "Land of Smiles" has taken its toll as a series of widely publicized armed robberies and murders of tourists, particularly women, continue to rise. 

In March, a British tourist was murdered on his sailboat, and in January, police arrested a Thai man for the murder of a German woman who was killed during a party on a beach in southern Thailand. 

In 2007, two young Russian women were murdered on the beach in Pattaya. 

In January 2006, two Thai fisherman were convicted of raping and killing 21-year-old British tourist Katherine Horton on Koh Samui. The following day, a Swedish woman who was visiting Thailand with her husband and children, was also raped on Koh Samui. 

Unfortunately, in addition to the homicides described above, there have also been a large number of recent armed robberies and rapes of foreigners.

Although robbery and rape is understandably often a motivation in attacks on foreigners, what is puzzling is the large number of unprovoked attacks in which neither robbery or rape occurred, suggesting that some attacks could be attributable to a serial killer. 

In the case of Edith Jungen, robbery was the primary motive in her attack, but in the case of two young Russian women who were murdered as they relaxed in beach chairs in Pattaya in 2007, their assailants are still at large. They were neither robbed or raped.

One trend that is increasingly troubling is the rise in homicides stemming from robberies, suggesting that criminals are murdering their victims, so as to reduce the risk of being apprehended and convicted.

Almost invariably, foreign crime victims have been attacked when they are alone or in areas where there have been few people (i.e., beach areas, hiking trails, etc.). It is strongly suggested that foreign travelers to Thailand make themselves keenly aware of where specific victims have been attacked and avoid areas where a person alone is vulnerable. 

Taking an organized tour is an excellent way of reducing security risks, rather than venturing out alone. Hotel staff should be consulted on high-risk areas that should be avoided and all travelers should check on travel advisories and warning disseminated by their respective embassies. 

It is also not a bad idea to carry a whistle, which can used to give alarm, if you find yourself in trouble. Women should also be aware that the threat of HIV/AIDS in Thailand, particularly among men, is at crisis levels.

Although Thailand is a truly wonderful country with a wonderful people, one should remember that a high incidence of intoxication and drug use, in concert with a struggling economy, does put foreigners, often perceived as "wealthy," at risk.