A SHOOTOUT between rival gangs in Bangkok’s Pratunam area which left one Indian tourist dead and several others injured has underscored Thailand’s long-standing gun problem.
Local reports on the incident said the victims, mostly bystanders, were hit by stray bullets as they were caught in the crossfire when the two gangs began exchanging gun fire outside a pool hall following a dispute.
Some of the bullet shells recovered from the scene came from an AK-47 assault rifle, police said.
According to the Bangkok Post, police are now on the hunt for the suspects amid concerns that the incident would deal another blow to the country’s lucrative tourism industry that has felt a plunge after 40 Chinese travellers died in a ferry tragedy in July.
Just last week, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha issued a public apology after airport security slapped a Chinese tourist.
And in wake of Sunday’s incident, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said authorities were tightening their clampdown on the illegal possession of firearms, confiscating a number of weapons in the process.
“Investigators have identified three suspects,” Immigration Bureau acting chief Surachate Hakparn said on Monday.
Surachate said authorities have raided the homes of the suspects but the searches turned up empty. Authorities along the Thai border have also been put on alert in case the suspects attempt to flee the country, he said.
The chaos erupted at around 8.30pm on Sunday near a car park attached to the Watergate Pavilion mall, where foreign tourists were shot while waiting for a bus to pick them up after dining nearby.
An Indian national, whose name was not revealed, died while another compatriot was wounded along with a Lao national and two Thais.
Police said the suspects were being investigated for murder and attempted murder, adding the incident was believed to have been the result of a brawl involving two rival groups.
Investigators also found 7.62mm and 9mm shells at the crime scene and .38 special casings, raising suspicions that an AK-47 was used in the fight.
Thailand’s gun-related killings per capita is higher than the United States, according to Channel News Asia earlier this year. The kingdom is second only behind the Philippines within Southeast Asia.
The report highlighted millions of powerful weapons scattered across the country, many of which were illegal and unregistered.
According to research by the University of Washington, there were more than 3,000 homicides by a firearm in the country in 2016, a rate of 4.45 deaths per 100,000 people.
Thailand’s rate of gun-related deaths is also nearly eight times that of neighbouring Malaysia. The number of gun deaths in Thailand has also been compared to it is one of the world’s most dangerous countries, Iraq.
Most homicides in Thailand, according to the report are linked criminal elements, gang activity or personal conflicts.