Thailand hunting for resort town bombers

A man walks past the site of a small bomb blast and arson attack on Bang Niang market, Takua Pa, near Khao Lak in Phang Nga province of Thailand on Aug 12.
A man walks past the site of a small bomb blast and arson attack on Bang Niang market, Takua Pa, near Khao Lak in Phang Nga province of Thailand on Aug 12. PHOTO: AFP
Thai soldiers and sniffer dogs stand near Erawan Shrine, a popular tourist destination that was the site of a bomb attack almost one year ago, in Bangkok on Aug 12.
Thai soldiers and sniffer dogs stand near Erawan Shrine, a popular tourist destination that was the site of a bomb attack almost one year ago, in Bangkok on Aug 12. PHOTO: AFP
Injured people receive first aid after a bomb exploded on Aug 11 in Trang, Thailand.
Injured people receive first aid after a bomb exploded on Aug 11 in Trang, Thailand.PHOTO: REUTERS

Four dead, at least 35 injured in coordinated bomb attacks in popular holiday destinations

A major holiday weekend turned sombre after a series of closely timed bombings rocked Thailand's restive southern provinces, killing four people and injuring at least 35 others, including foreign tourists.

Thai security officials were on high alert as they began a hunt for those behind the explosions in Phuket, Phang Nga, Surat Thani, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Trang provinces.

Local media reports said police detained two men for questioning, but there were no other details.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts, which killed two people in the resort town of Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan province. The other two deaths were in Surat Thani and Trang.

Thai police were quick to rule out foreign involvement or terror links.

"Foreigners are not involved," national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said yesterday. "I believe it was done by people inside the country."

The wave of blasts occurred as Thailand celebrated the 84th birthday of Queen Sirikit yesterday, at the start of a long weekend that saw Thais packing into resort districts.

In the upscale seaside resort city of Hua Hin, where the Thai royal family has its summer palace, four bombs went off between Thursday night and yesterday morning, while two explosions went off near Patong beach in Phuket yesterday. The force of one blast mangled a police kiosk near a pedestrian mall.

In Hua Hin, German tourist Peter Rabb told Thailand's Voice TV: "Everyone is very friendly and very nice. I don't know why they would do something like that. If the next (few) days are not so dangerous, we will go outside again."

In Phuket, tourist police were out in force to reassure visitors that the island was still a safe place.

But Krabi's night market was closed for the weekend, while an evening parade was cancelled in Phang Nga, according to a report on the Khaosod English website.

There are fears the blasts could hurt Thailand's lucrative tourism industry, which drew nearly 30 million people last year. Visitors from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Austria were among the injured.

"The bombs are an attempt to create chaos and confusion," Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said. "Why have the bombs occurred as our country is heading towards stability, a better economy and tourism - and who did it?"

Thailand has been controlled by a military government since a coup in 2014. The explosions came days after Sunday's referendum, which saw 61.35 per cent of Thais vote in favour of a draft Constitution that will shrink the power of elected parliamentarians vis-a-vis appointed ones, even as it paves the way for elections next year.

But the draft charter was soundly rejected in southern Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces, where the heavy military presence is resented by the Malay-Muslim majority, and where a separatist insurgency has claimed thousands of lives in the past decade.

Given the uptick of bomb attacks in these provinces just before the referendum, one analyst believes the latest blasts are the work of ethnic Malay separatists.

"This is exactly the same modus operandi that Patani Malay insurgents have been using for well over a decade in the three provinces," Mr Anthony Davis, an analyst with IHS Jane's, told The Straits Times.

Singapore yesterday condemned the series of bomb explosions and expressed its deepest condolences, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. It also advised Singaporeans in Thailand to exercise vigilance.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Thailand hunting for resort town bombers'. Print Edition | Subscribe