New phase in Thailand's southern insurgency?

Updated On: Apr 05, 2005

Songkhla - Just days afterThai PM Thaksin Shinawatra indicated his readiness to adopt a softer line towards the restive south, three powerful explosions ripped through the city of Hat Yai, the main transport hub for Thailand’s far south, on the night of April 3. The blasts, which killed two people and injured more than 50, have raised fears that the violent insurgency that has rocked the three southernmost provinces has widened to other parts of southernThailand.

The almost simultaneous explosions went off at Hat Yai international airport, a department store and a hotel. The incidents caught the authorities off-guard as the ongoing violence involving Muslim militants has mostly taken place in the three border provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

At Hat Yai airport, a bomb exploded at a chair near the public relations counter of the domestic arrivals lounge. Two people died and many were wounded.

Almost simultaneously, another bomb wreaked havoc outside the Green World Palace Hotel in Songkhla’s Muang district. The explosion shattered windows and mangled some 10 motorbikes parked outside.

Some five minutes before the explosion at the airport, at around8.30pm, about 25 people were injured in a bomb blast near the entrance of a Carrefour supermarket. The bomb, which was hidden in a trashcan, sent hundreds of panicked shoppers running for their lives.

Thai army chief General Prawit Wongsuwan said the insurgents had taken their terror campaign out of the three border provinces in a last act of desperation.Hesaid the bomb blasts in Hat Yai “show that our measures are working in the three southernmost provinces”.

Thai police are now looking forManasae Jehloh, a suspected Muslim insurgent who already carries a bounty of 1-million baht for his capture, in connection with the latestblasts.

Manasae, also known as Sah Karim, has been linked to assassinations of officials as well as bombings and arson attacks in the deep South.The Pattani native is believed to have received training inLibyaand joined the separatist Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) on his return toThailandin the 1980s. He is believed to have links with the Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani (GMIP), a more recent Muslim separatist group formed by veterans of the Afghan War.

Prime Minister Thaksin said on April 4 that his government would not use force to retaliate against those behind the Hat Yai bomb blasts. Mr Thaksin last week indicated that he was reconsidering his much-criticised hardline approach in dealing with the unrest. He had pledged to pull out some troops in the south and to focus on providing the area with more development and education.

*Two die in triple Hat Yai blasts (The Bangkok Post, April 4)

*Terror in Hat Yai: Blasts hit airport, hotel and Carrefour (The Nation, April 4)

* Bt1-million bounty for suspect (The Nation, April 4)