Wednesday, 19 March 2008

US warns travellers to avoid southern Thailand amid increasing rebel attacks
Tue, March 18, 2008


BANGKOK, Thailand - The U.S. State Department is urging Americans to postpone travel plans to restive southern Thailand following a weekend attack on a hotel that was popular with foreigners.

The warning coincided with a grenade attack Tuesday at a mosque in southern Yala province, which wounded two caretakers.

Police say attackers hurled a hand grenade at the mosque just after several dozen worshippers had cleared out from morning prayers.

On Saturday evening, a powerful car bomb went off at the C.S. Pattani hotel in Pattani province, killing two people and wounding 14.

The hotel has long been used as a base for visiting journalists, foreigners and government officials.

The State Department says the recent spate of violence by separatist rebels in southern Thailand appears to have shifted to public places where tourists are at risk.

Drive-by shootings and bombings occur almost daily in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, the only Muslim-majority areas of the Buddhist country.

The region, which borders Malaysia, has been gripped by a Muslim insurgency that has claimed more than 2,900 lives since 2004.

"Although the extremist groups focus primarily on Thai government interests in the southern provinces, some of the recent violence in the area has targeted public places, including areas where tourists may congregate," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

Police were searching for at least two men wanted in Tuesday's attack. The men parked a pickup truck in front of the mosque and then threw a grenade onto the building's roof, which rolled down and exploded near the entrance, said police Col. Pitsawut Sanguansombatsiri, one of the investigating officers.

Authorities blamed the attack on suspected Muslim insurgents, who are routinely accused of carrying out attacks on Muslims as part of a strategy to intensify anger over the bloodshed and push more Muslims to join the insurgency.

Muslims and Buddhists who work for the government are viewed as collaborators and are regularly targeted by insurgents.

"I don't believe they meant to kill people, since they attacked after prayers. They just wanted to cause a disturbance," Pitsawut said.

In a separate incident, a suspected insurgent was shot and killed in a gunbattle with policemen and soldiers who raided a village in Narathiwat province, said police Col. Tanongsak Wangsupa.

Tanongsak said three suspects ran from a house and opened fire on the security force, leading to a five-minute gunbattle.

One suspect was wounded and the other one fled the scene, he said.


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