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Bleak economic outlook for Hatyai as attacks scare off tourists

Updated On: Sep 19, 2006

Hatyai, transport and financial capital of the South, is reeling from the aftermath of the attacks.

The economic damage is substantial. Thousands of visitors have left while many more have changed travel plans to the region. Songkhla Professional Tourist Guide Association chairman Songchai Mungprasitthichai predicted that Hatyai “would now suffer from a slowdown in tourism over the coming three months” because as “the bombings took place in the heart of the city, leaving no sense of safety and security for visitors… They witnessed everything that happened because it took place right in the downtown area”.

International condemnation has also poured in from Canada and Amnesty International against the deadly attacks in Hatyai where six bombs were set off by mobile phones in a bar, department stores, a hotel and a massage parlour on Saturday night. The Nation reported that among the four killed was a Canadian teacher, who is the first Western victim of the Southern violence. More than seventy persons have also been injured, including six foreigners.

Bangkok is not authorizing a state of emergency in Hatyai unlike in Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and the four districts in Songkhla. Fourth Army Area commander Lt General Ongkorn Thongprasom said, “The imposition of a state of emergency in Hat Yai would scare away tourists and affect the local economy.” However, the damage may be irreparable. Songchai painted an ominous picture, saying to The Nation, “We are waiting for the day our businesses go bankrupt. We have been trying hard to cope ever since the violence spread to Hat Yai. But, after these bombings it is doomed.”

PM Thaksin has ordered Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin and Police Commissioner-General Gen Kowit Watana to go to Hatyai “to take charge of investigations to try to bring attackers to justice as soon as possible”, while the Public Health Ministry is to “provide full care for those injured by the bomb attacks”.

It is speculative how effective these actions can be post-attacks when already the security forces have admitted to a flaw in their defence preparations. Expecting bomb attacks on the first anniversary of the Gerakan Mujahidin Islam Pattani (GMIP) separatist movement, a splinter group of the Gerakan Mujahidin Pattani (GMP), the military had “decided not to take control of the city because administrative officials and police were already in charge”. Rivalry between the army and police is infamous in the South, and it may be true that security forces have really “done their best” without escalating mutual tensions.

At about the same time, the Thai army held a meeting for some six thousand villagers in Yala as part of its reconciliation initiative to engage the Southern Muslims,. To ensure security, mobile phone operators turned off the signals while discussions were underway. Hundreds of security personnel were deployed to protect the venue.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's police inspector-general Musa Hassan has clarified to Bernama that “the killing of a Malaysian official by suspected Islamic militants in southern Thailand was an isolated incident”, though he cautioned that people needed to be careful when visiting southern Thailand.

Sources:

Amnesty International condemns Hat Yai bombings (Nation, 18 September 2006)

Hat Yai bombs detonated by mobile phones: southern army chief (Nation, 18 September 2006)

Thaksin orders army, police chiefs to visit Hat Yai (Nation, 18 September 2006)

No state of emergency likely for town: Army (Nation, 18 September 2006)

Hat Yai weeps, fears worst (Nation, 18 September 2006)

Security 'loophole' admitted (Bangkok Post, 18 September 2006)

Series of bombs rock Hat Yai (Bangkok Post, 17 September 2006)

Urgent: Five killed, 50 injured in Hat Yai bomb attacks (Nation, 17 September 2006)

Yala mobile phones cut off as Army meets locals (Nation, 17 September 2006)

Killing Of M'sian In Southern Thailand Isolated Case – Musa (Bernama, 16 September 2006)

Thai army seeks to rally support among minority Muslims (Reuters, 16 September 2006)

Malaysian Troops Not Allowed To Visit Thailand (Bernama, 16 September 2006)