THE Australian government has called on Thai authorities to clamp down on violence, extortion and scams against foreign tourists on the resort island of Phuket.
The call comes after the June 20 stabbing murder of 60-year-old Michelle Smith by a bag-snatcher. Australia’s ambassador to Thailand, James Wise, yesterday flew in from Bangkok to meet provincial leaders and senior police.
There have been concerted attempts by honorary consuls from countries including Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain to ensure a crackdown on thugs and organised criminal rip-offs.
But bloody assaults have continued unabated – often carried out by the operators of taxi services as well as various touts and scam merchants.
Scams include gross overcharging of tourists by some taxis and tuk tuks, as well as demands for huge cash payments for allegedly damaged jet skis that have been hired on Phuket’s beaches. Another racket centres on renting motorcycles and then arranging to have them stolen by an accomplice. The luckless visitor is then made to pay thousands of dollars.
In both the jet ski and motorcycle abuses, tourists have little room to manoeuvre as they have already handed over their passports as security and the criminals have links to corrupt Phuket police and politicians.
The Australian honorary consul Larry Cunningham, who accompanied Wise to yesterday’s talks, said far too little had been done to protect foreign visitors.
Referring to numerous assaults by tuk tuk and taxi drivers – often in disputes over inflated fares – he said: ”Some of these people are just looking for trouble, but the police are not dealing with them.”
Sources in the Australian expatriate community – which numbers some 2000 – referred to a ”transport mafia” with high level local political protection.
It is estimated there are about 20,000 Australian tourists on Phuket at any given time.
An Australian who owns a restaurant on Patong Beach, Wal Brown, sees violence night after night on the Bangla Road nightclub and go-go bar strip.
He heads a group of 25 foreign volunteers called International Liaison Officers who cooperate with Thai authorities and conduct foot patrols.
He called on the Australian government to provide written safety and scam warnings to all passengers on direct flights to Phuket from the major Australian cities.