Four killed, dozens injured in southern Thailand bombings

Monday, May 28, 2007

Four people were killed and about two dozen injured in a bombing at a crowded market in Saba Yoi, Songkhla Province, Thailand.

The day before, a series of bombings in Songkhla's main city Hat Yai injured 13 people. Police are investigating those attacks, which occurred at around 9 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Sunday, when seven coordinated explosions went off at stores, hotels and restaurants in a city that is popular with tourists.

In Monday's bombing, the dead were two women and two girls, ages 4 and 8. The bomb, which exploded shortly after 4 p.m. local time (0900 GMT), was hidden in a motorcycle parked in front of the market next to a railway station.

The troubled provinces of southern Thailand.

Authorities have not concluded if the blasts are linked to the ongoing insurgency by Muslim separatists in southern Thailand. The past year has seen an escalation of violence, with almost daily fatal shootings of civilians and frequent ambush attacks on soldiers. Since early 2004, more than 2,200 people have been killed, mainly in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country, but in those three provinces, the majority of residents are Islamic.

Council for National Security chairman General Sonthi Boonayaratkalin said he believed Sunday night's bombings were only meant to cause a disturbance. Other officials compared the Hat Yai blasts to the Bangkok New Year's Eve bombings, which they say were caused to create political tensions, though in those blasts, three people were killed.

Business analysts believe Sunday night's bombings will hurt Hat Yai's tourist trade, which has been struggling since a spate of bombings in 2005, including one that killed two people at Hat Yai International Airport, as well as blasts in a department store and hotel, with about 70 people wounded. In September 2006, four people were killed in a series of bombings in Hat Yai.

The latest bombings come at a tense time for Thailand. In the nation's capital, Bangkok, security forces are on alert ahead of a court ruling expected on Wednesday that could lead to the dissolution of the former ruling Thai Rak Thai party and the main opposition Democrat Party. Since a military-led coup d'état last year, in which prime minister and Thai Rak Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted, all political activity has been banned by the junta.

Last week, King Bhumibol Adulyadej made a rare televised address as he granted an audience to the administrative court judges. He urged them to use care in their verdict. "You have the responsibility to prevent the country from collapsing," he told them.

Authorities believe supporters of the political parties may cause trouble if they are displeased with the verdict.

Meanwhile, the nation's constitution is being rewritten, and Buddhists are demanding that Buddhism be made the national religion, a move that experts believe will lead to an even bigger increase in violence in Muslim-dominated southern Thailand.