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Yala blasts 'not an attack on new Army commander'

THE BOMBINGS in Yala early this week had nothing to do with the assignment of a new Fourth Army Region commander and seemed to target the region's economy and tourism, Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said yesterday.

Prayuth, accompanied by caretaker Deputy Defence Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha, went on an inspection trip to the deep South yesterday, while caretaker Deputy PM Pol General Pracha Promnog went there separately to follow up on police investigation into the blasts.

The Army chief insisted that the bombings did not relate to the new Fourth Army Region commander Lt-General Walit Rojanapakdi, who replaced Lt-General Sakol Chuentrakul in the midyear Army reshuffle. Prayuth said the bombings were likely linked to the upcoming Songkran Festival and the 10th anniversary of the Krue Se mosque incident.

He said the insurgents wanted to jeopardise the region's economy and tourism, while also pressuring Buddhist Thais to move out, as the bombed areas were dominated by Thai-Buddhist businesspeople.

The insurgents also wanted to discredit Thai authorities and provoke them into retaliating violently so as to elevate the unrest to become an international problem, he said.

Prayuth has ordered that security be beefed up in commercial areas and urged shops to install more surveillance cameras. He also called for the establishment of district-level violence-prevention operation centres, specifying that the Army would focus on military operations.

The general also pointed out that negotiation was only one strategy and that so far, no conclusion had been achieved in that area yet. He also urged local people to help state officials by keeping an eye on suspicious people, activities and items, especially since the insurgents had now started using small explosives to create damaging fires in target areas.

Yuthasak, meanwhile, put the higher frequency of bombings down to the insurgents' attempt to seek state attention and resume negotiations after the peace dialogue came to a stop because of national political conflicts.

He said he would meet with caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and relevant agencies to discuss a new form of talks with separatists or adjustments to prevent violence in the South from escalating.

Meanwhile, Pracha inspected Yala bomb scenes yesterday and met police and provincial authorities to set up a new policy and follow up on the progress of the investigation. He said he wanted to see key things for himself, such as the damage caused, before he reports the situation to Yingluck, who is concerned about the escalation of the unrest.

Other than visiting affected people, Pracha said he wanted to offer moral support to operative officials and find out what they needed to perform their duties in this risky region.

Separately, the chief of Yala's Betong district, Supawarit Phetchkanm has called for a boost in security as well as the strict screening of vehicles in commercial areas.

He has also urged all hotels to check guests' identification cards closely so as to prevent violence during the Songkran holidays.

In related news, Narathiwat soldiers attended a sports event in tambon Ba Ngo Sato of Ra-ngae district in a bid to get young people interested in constructive activities instead of opting for drugs or becoming insurgency sympathisers.

Meanwhile, 500 residents in Muang Narathiwat gathered to offer alms to 120 Buddhist novices in a merit-making rite for those killed in the unrest and to welcome the traditional New Year.


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