Manama: Up to 17,000 Saudis broke a travel ban and visited Thailand last year, a Saudi diplomat in the Thai capital Bangkok said.

“Only 90 of the 17,000 Saudis who were in the country last year registered their names with the embassy,” Abdul Elah Al Shuaibi, the charge d’affaires, said. “They visited the country despite the ban related to the pending cases between the two countries,” he said, quoted by local Arabic daily Al Sharq.

Saudi Arabia imposed the ban following the “blue diamond” affair of 1989 when a Thai national broke into the palace of a Saudi prince and stole close to 100kg of jewellery, including a fabulous blue diamond.

Soon afterwards, three Saudi diplomats in Bangkok were shot execution-style in two different attacks on the same night, and two days later, a Saudi businessman was killed.

According to Thai media, 77,782 Saudis visited Thailand in the year before the ban in 1989.

Al Shuaibi attributed the reluctance of the thousands of tourists who did not register with the embassy to “unfounded concerns that the diplomatic mission would report their names to Riyadh for breaking the ban”.

“The role of the embassy is to provide assistance to the tourists and not to report about them to any party,” he said.

Al Shuaibi said that the political instability in several traditional tourism destination countries has led several Saudis to opt for Thailand.

“We expect more and more Saudis to come to Thailand,” he said. “The problem is that most tourists contact the embassy only after they wade into trouble, such as losing their passports. In such cases, the embassy cannot do much to provide prompt assistance since the data about the tourist is not recorded.”

Stolen passports could be used to obtain visas for other countries or make bookings in hotels and other tourism facilities, he said.