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Truck tied to bomb probe

Insurgent group blamed; four victims still in intensive care

SUNDAY'S vehicle-bomb attacks in Songkhla have placed the spotlight on the recent discovery of a suspicious pickup truck in a favourite tourist destination, Phuket.

Police at the Muang Phuket Police Station noticed the pickup on December 20 but, despite their repeated announcements, no one came forward to claim ownership to the vehicle.

Further inspection also showed the truck had two 15kg cooking-gas cylinders inside its extended cab.

Colonel Pramote Phrom-in, spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Region 4 Forward Command, yesterday revealed that the suspicious pickup had disappeared since its owner was killed in Pattani's Sai Buri district seven months ago. "We are looking into this case," he said.

Pramote said the car used to stage the explosion near the Oliver Hotel in Songkhla on Sunday was also a stolen vehicle.

"This car is linked to another armed and fatal robbery, which happened in Pattani's Nong Chik district," he said.

He said with this link, it was very likely that the bombers might have had a connection with the group led by Seri Waemamu.

Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) spokesman Colonel Banphot Poonpien said three bomb attacks erupted in Songkhla's Sadao district on Sunday. Sadao, a vibrant economic centre, is not under the Internal Security Act.

"But we've received some tips-off before that some violent perpetrators have planned to carry out attacks in community and economic zones," Banphot said.

The three blasts injured 27 people on Sunday.

While Isoc refrained from narrowing down the list of possible motives behind the attack, Provincial Police Region 9 commissioner Lt-General Pisit Pisuthsak insisted that available evidence was solid enough to link Sunday's attacks in Songkhla's Sadao district to insurgents.

Thailand's southernmost region has been struggling with unrest for about one decade.

Songklanagarind Hospital's director Dr Chit Petpichetchian said a total of 12 bomb-attack victims were sent to his hospital.

Of them, 11 sustained serious injuries.

"Four victims are in intensive care units. One of them needs brain surgery," Chit said.

Songkhla Governor Krissada Boonraj said all victims of the blasts would receive compensation in line with the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre's regulations.

"In event of serious injury, the compensation is set at Bt50,000," he said.

He added that owners of damaged property could also register for compensation.

Pisit said the investigation into Sunday's bomb blasts was progressing well and police had already received recordings from security cameras.

A source said police had suspected that at least five men were involved in staging the bomb attacks.

Pramote said the chief of the 4th Army Area had instructed all special taskforces in the deep South to strictly enforce security measures and prepare safety plans for the upcoming New Year holidays.

"There will be many tourists during the period," he said.

However, Panu Woramit, who heads the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Songkhla Office, revealed that the blasts had already had serious impacts on local tourism.

"More than 50 per cent of room reservations in Hat Yai and Sadao districts of Songkhla have been cancelled," he said.

He said his office was now trying to boost tourists' confidence in a bid to stimulate tourism during the upcoming New Year season.

"We will promote New Year celebrations and events," he said.

Somchart Pimthanapoonporn, president of the Hat Yai-Songkhla Hotel Association, said the bomb blasts on Sunday had hurt the tourism climate in the province.

"Malaysian news outlets have reported the incidents too," he said.

Somchart said Sadao in fact had been free from violent incidents during the past decade.

"So, its security measures might not be as strict as those enforced in Hat Yai area," he said.

He said that from now on, all relevant parties in Songkhla's Hat Yai district would need to step up security.




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