Gambia apologises to Thailand for sex tourism slur

BANJUL, Gambia (AFP) - The Gambia on Tuesday (March 6) apologised to Thailand after its foreign minister said the Asian country was a haven for sex tourists, sparking a strongly worded protest from Bangkok.

Hamat Bah said on state television in January that The Gambia, a sunny beach destination favoured by Western tourists especially from Scandinavia, was losing out to the nearby archipelago nation of Cape Verde after gaining a reputation as a sex haven.

"The fact is that this country's image has been battered heavily... I was trying to find out why we are not getting Scandinavian tourists anymore, and I discovered that this country has been considered a sex destination," he had said.

"We are not a sex destination. If you want a sex destination, you go to Thailand," he added.

The Thai government last week lodged a formal protest in a strongly worded letter.

Its Culture Minister Veera Rojpojchanarat separately said sex tourism had declined due to measures taken by the government.

"Thailand has improved a lot in this issue. After the ministry of culture worked on promoting morality, this issue has improved a lot," Veera told reporters, according to Thai media.

A Gambian foreign ministry statement Tuesday said it "regrets the unfortunate comments made by the Minister of Tourism and Culture".

It said "measures will be put in place to prevent the occurrence of such an unfortunate incident," adding that the minister's comments should not be "construed as a reflection of the government's view on the tourism sector of Thailand."

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