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South Thailand under close watch for bombs

Publication Date : 04-04-2012


In the wake of the weekend's car-bomb attacks in Hat Yai and Yala, security will remain tight in all at-risk areas for the next three months, while extra measures will be adopted during the April 12-18 Songkran festival, or Thailand's traditional new year, and the April 7-11 beach volleyball competition in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

In Songkhla, soldiers will possibly be asked to help the police guard road checkpoints or conduct foot patrols in key areas, senior commander Pol Lt-General Jakthip Chaijinda said, conceding that a military presence could scare away foreign tourists.

Meanwhile, police are trying to track down vehicles that have been reported missing for fear they could be used in future bomb attacks, while the areas of operations under close watch have been made smaller so security units can ensure constant and more thorough surveillance.

Among the suspects named yesterday, he said that two of them went by the same name - Jehmah Wani. "There are two persons in different age groups suspected of involvement, but I cannot say which of the two is more suspicious," he added.

Thawee Sodsong, director of Southern Border Province Administrative Centre, denied that he had held talks with insurgents during his recent visit to Malaysia as alleged by Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Thawee said that he had not been authorised to represent Thailand and that it was really the National Security Council or the Foreign Ministry's job.

Citing the meeting of agencies responsible for national security on Monday, he blamed miscommunication as a possible reason for Prayuth's belief he had spoken to insurgents, adding that the Army chief has since been given an explanation.

He also said that former MP Nujmudeen Uma did not work as an adviser to the SBPAC, which a senior policeman claimed was the reason behind an M-79 attack on his Narathiwat home last week. However, Thawee said, the SBPAC did contact Nujmudeen during a public referendum in the area.

Deputy Prime Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapha said negotiations between security officials and insurgents at the operational level could take place and continue if permitted by the military top brass, but talks at the executive level had not been held among relevant agencies as reportedly proposed by Defence Minister Sukamphol Suwannathat. "If we could get all groups of insurgents to the negotiation table, then talks could be possible, but if not, the groups not involved in the talks could carry out violence on claims that they were not included," he added.

Yutthasak also blamed Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel staff members for the Saturday bomb attacks, saying they had ignored security warnings. "It was their ignorance and mistake that allowed the insurgents to launch a bomb attack," he added.

A 500,000 baht (US$16,150) bounty is being offered for each of the two suspects in the Hat Yai bombing, Songkhla governor Kritsada Boonrat said during a meeting of agencies and the province's business and tourism sectors to assess the situation.

Meanwhile, Jurai Leela, a woman who sustained injuries in the Yala blasts, succumbed to her wounds early yesterday, bringing the province's total deaths from the weekend bombing to 11. So far, three people have been reported dead in the Hat Yai attack.

Owners of cars parked in the Lee Gardens hotel that have been inspected by ordnance personnel are being allowed to obtain their vehicles after producing proof of ownership. One woman said her car had been damaged by the explosion but could be repaired.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, meanwhile, has agreed with her Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak to boost security at border checkpoints, while both countries' Interior Ministries will share the database on passports and identification papers to keep a watchful eye on visitors to both countries. This will also minimise the chance of people maintaining dual nationalities, which had been exploited by insurgents.

Speaking during the recent Asean summit in Cambodia, Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul said Yingluck expressed her condolences and vowed to compensate for the loss of life and properties of foreign tourists who were killed or wounded in the Hat Yai attack.

Her Majesty the Queen has presented gifts and supplies to the 52 wounded people still in hospital in Songkhla and 30 others in Yala through the Thai Red Cross Society's secretary-general Phaen Wannamethee, who also conveyed a message of condolence and encouragement from the Queen.

In Narathiwat, four gunmen opened fire at the home of a local politician, who survived after crawling under his truck and returning fire, which forced the attackers to flee in a pick-up truck.

Habir Bukawali, a member of the Tambon Batong Administrative Organisation, said two of the men were armed with automatic rifles and two with shotguns. Police collected 80 spent cartridges at the scene, a home in Rusoh district, and theorised the attack was either the work of insurgents or motivated by other conflicts he may have had with business or political rivals.


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