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South Crisis

Body blow for Betong

Masseuses at a traditional massage parlour wait for customers in Yala

Masseuses at a traditional massage parlour wait for customers in Yala

Car bomb expected to ravage local tourism industry; town fears Bt100 million loss

STATE AGENCIES and the public have begun a process to restore confidence in Betong, the town in the far South hit by a huge car bomb last Friday that killed two and wounded 42 others. But the drama is expected to put a Bt100 million-plus dent in the town's economy.

Insurgent attacks have been common in the predominantly Muslim deep South since 2004 but Betong in Yala, which borders Malaysia, had enjoyed relative peace.

Yala Governor Dejrat Simsiri said the bomb blast seriously harmed the local economy, which mostly depended on tourism - as it had created panic among Malaysian and Thai tourists and other prospective visitors. The greatest impact, he said, could be the hit to Betong's domestic tourism.

"If Thais want to help return happiness to Betong people, they should keep travelling to visit the district," Dejrat told reporters.

Local residents did not panic after the attack as they had lived in peace a long time and understand the situation quite well, he said.

Provincial authorities have allocated more than Bt30 million in compensation for victims of the blast, he said.

Udom Laksana, president of the Betong Tourism Association, said the incident would put a Bt100 million-plus hole in the district's economy.

He said the attack took place during the tourism season in the district ahead of the Fruit Festival and the celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri at the end of the holy month of Ramadan early this week.

The more than 2,000 accommodation venues in Betong were usually fully booked now but there had been many cancellations following the attack.

Udom said the association was consulting with relevant agencies, including the military, in a bid to lure tourists back to Betong.

Tourism and entertainment businesses in the area confirmed that their operations had taken a hit.

Ngamta Thongsom, owner of the Foot Funny massage shop, said her business was damaged by the bomb blast and some of her staff injured.

She said the shop would be repaired but the staff were still in shock and did not want to work there anymore, while people did not want to go there anymore.

She called on relevant authorities in the province and in Bangkok to launch a special tourism promotion to give people an incentive to visit Betong.

"Perhaps we have to offer a special discount of at least 50 per cent for accommodations and other services in the district, she said.

"I believe all parties in the [tourism] business would be willing to cooperate in the campaign. We have to do all we can to restore economic life to Betong."

Yala Chamber of Commerce chairman Noppong Thiraworn said the chamber had plans and projects to restore confidence in the district and give the economy a lift.

He did not elaborate, only saying the business community in the district would help create an atmosphere that would allow locals and visitors to feel relaxed.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the bombing appears to have made little progress. Police detained two suspects and their interrogation offered hints and leads that could lead to the bombers and/or the masterminds behind the attack, according to Betong police chief Wasan Phuangnoi, who declined to give more details.






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