October 6, 2023
BANGKOK – Thailand made concerted efforts on Wednesday to restore public confidence in its critical tourism sector, a day after a teenage boy with a handgun opened fire inside an upmarket shopping mall in the heart of its capital Bangkok, killing two foreigners before being apprehended.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who visited in hospital the five people wounded in Tuesday’s shooting at Siam Paragon, joined a moment of silence at the mall before offering his government’s condolences to the families of the deceased — a Chinese tourist and a Myanmar national.
He promised a swift investigation into the shooting and said “preventive measures” against gun violence will be adopted to ensure better public safety.
Among the five people injured, one is a Chinese citizen, according to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has reached out to the embassies of countries concerned and has instructed Thai embassies abroad to contact the families of the victims.
The Chinese embassy in Bangkok has sent a team of consular officials to the mall and hospital to look into the situation.
At a news conference on Wednesday, top Thai government officials expressed their deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wished those injured a speedy recovery.
Korn Dabbaransi, president of the Thai-Chinese Friendship Association who served as Thai deputy prime minister, and his associates also expressed their condolences and wishes via China Daily and other media outlets.
According to Thai authorities, a situation command center has been set up to facilitate assistance for the injured and the families of the deceased. The center, which will start operating from Thursday, will provide updates on the situation and information about the victims in a timely manner.
It comprises officials from several government departments and agencies including the ministries of foreign affairs, tourism and sports, justice, health, and social development and human security, the Royal Thai Police and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The command center will operate as long as necessary to take actions and follow-up on all related matters, authorities said.
Measures including stepping up security in public areas will be taken to prevent such incidents from happening in the future, an official said, underscoring that an appropriate approach to stabilize public mental health is also necessary.
The 14-year-old suspect, who is currently in police custody, was a “mental patient” at Rajavithi Hospital, and had not been taking his medication, local media reported. He used a blank-firing handgun that had been modified to fire real bullets, according to Thai police.
Samran Nualma, assistant commissioner-general of the Royal Thai Police, said that security training for guards and related personnel in public areas has been enhanced, while schoolchildren will soon be provided lessons on how to stay safe in emergency situations. “We are also reviewing laws and regulations related to gun control, and regulations on items that can be improvised and used as lethal weapons,” he said.
The timing of the shooting couldn’t have been worse for Thailand. In pre-COVID years, China was its biggest source of foreign visitors and last month, the Srettha administration introduced visa-free entry for Chinese nationals to facilitate travel.
Many flights from China to Thailand reported over 90 percent bookings after the five-month visa waiver took effect on Sept 25.
On Wednesday, Thai Tourism Minister Sudawan Wangsuppakitkosol said: “Safety is always our top concern, and we do care about the country’s image and people’s confidence. We are working closely with the Tourism Authority of Thailand to provide assistance for affected tourists in terms of family access and relief measures.”
According to TAT Governor Thapanee Kiatphaibool, the Thai tourism department is monitoring data including the number of Chinese tourists and hotel bookings to assess how the incident might influence the tourism market.
“We have spoken to the private sector on stepping up security measures …. Although an isolated incident, the shooting tragedy is one of great concern,” she said.