BANGKOK - Thailand's junta chief apologised Thursday for suggesting tourists in bikinis could be more vulnerable to attack, comments which caused an international outcry following the brutal murder of two British holidaymakers.
Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who is also prime minister, on Wednesday drew condemnation after questioning the safety of female tourists in the kingdom in off-the-cuff comments to government officials.
"They think our country is beautiful and is safe so they can do whatever they want, they can wear bikinis and walk everywhere," Prayut - who is also prime minister - said.
But "can they be safe in bikinis... unless they are not beautiful?" The remarks came just two days after the battered bodies of British tourists David Miller, 24 and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found on the southern resort island of Koh Tao.
In a rare public moment of contrition from the tough-talking army chief, Prayut said he did not mean to cause distress.
"I'm sorry that it hurt people," Prayut said at a hastily convened press conference in Bangkok.
"I didn't intend to insult or criticise anyone. I just warned that sometimes people have to be careful... today Thailand is safe except there are some bad guys - like anywhere in the world." Thailand's image as a tourist haven was battered by months of political protests that ended in May's army coup and has been further damaged by the murder of the Britons.
The incendiary words from Prayut, who seized power from the elected government in May, prompted the British Embassy in Bangkok to ask for a "clarification" raising its "concerns" over his remarks.
John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, branded the comments 'demeaning'.
Speaking before Prayut issued an apology he said: "Prime Minister Prayut's off the cuff remark unfortunately implies that women victims of violent crimes are somehow responsible for the abuse they suffered because of what they were wearing.
"This sort of statement demeans women - and if that was not his intent, then he should issue a statement clarifying matters."