Seven hurt as car bomb hits Thai tourist is­land

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY GERAL­DINE LAS­SALLE

A car bomb on the Thai re­sort is­land of Sa­mui has wounded seven peo­ple, in­clud­ing an Ital­ian girl, po­lice said Satur­day, in a fur­ther blow to the coun­try’s tar­nished rep­u­ta­tion as a top tourist des­ti­na­tion.

The bomb, packed in­side a Mazda pick-up truck with false num­ber plates, was det­o­nated re­motely by mo­bile phone late Fri­day in the un­der­ground car park of the Cen­tral Fes­ti­val mall, send­ing late-night shop­pers run­ning for safety.

Po­lice said the car had been stolen on March 31 from Yala, one of Thai­land’s three south­ern­most Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity prov­inces that have been scorched by a 10-year in­sur­gency in which more than 6,300 peo­ple have been killed.

“It’s a car bomb but we can­not con­firm what type of ex­plo­sive ma­te­ri­als they used,” Thai na­tional po­lice spokesman Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Prawut Tha­vorn­siri told AFP.

“The car used was a Mazda pick-up truck stolen from Yala,” he added, with­out spec­i­fy­ing whether the blast was be­lieved to be linked to the con­flict hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters away.

Six Thais and a 12-year-old Ital­ian girl were treated for mi­nor in­juries and were all re­leased from hos­pi­tal, ac­cord­ing to Poon­sak Sophon­sas­morong of the is­land’s dis­as­ter pre­ven­tion of­fice.

Thai po­lice have pre­vi­ously been ac­cused of leap­ing to con­clu­sions in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of high-pro­file in­ci­dents.

They came un­der fire dur­ing the probe into the mur­der of two Bri­tish back­pack­ers on Koh Tao is­land last year for bungling the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion and leak­ing er­ro­neous in­for­ma­tion to the me­dia.

Scour­ing the De­bris

Bomb squad ex­perts scoured the de­bris through Satur­day for clues about who might be be­hind the attack, which comes as Thai­land’s junta tries to re­as­sure tourists about the king­dom’s safety as a hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion fol­low­ing a coup last May.

Sa­mui is a wildly popular tourist is­land in the Gulf of Thai­land. Around 20 mil­lion vis­i­tors flock to Thai­land each year and tourism is a main­stay of the econ­omy.

“It was a big mas­sive ex­plo­sion. I was scared,” Hakan Genisol, a Turk­ish real es­tate manager on the is­land told AFP.

Genisol, who was in the su­per­mar­ket when the blast oc­curred, said he was wor­ried the bomb could neg­a­tively im­pact tourism.

“We are scared it af­fects that peo­ple change their mind for the des­ti­na­tion,” he said.

Although the mil­i­tary lifted mar­tial law last week, it main­tained sweep­ing se­cu­rity pow­ers cit­ing the threat of po­lit­i­cal un­rest af­ter a spate of small, sym­bolic bomb­ings in Bangkok ap­par­ently in protest against junta rule.

Thai­land’s south­ern prov­inces bor­der­ing Malaysia, some 400 kilo­me­ters (250 miles) south of Sa­mui, have long been home to a fes­ter­ing in­sur­gency pit­ting Mus­lim rebels against se­cu­rity forces.

A spokesman for the mil­i­tary’s In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Op­er­a­tion Com­mand said there had been no in­tel­li­gence to sug­gest the rebels were plan­ning to ex­pand their sphere of op­er­a­tions.

But “it’s pos­si­ble in­sur­gents with bomb-mak­ing skills were hired to attack for other pur­poses,” Colonel Ban­phot Phun­phien told re­porters, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

Small bomb at­tacks and shoot­ings are fairly fre­quent across Thai­land, where the rule of law is weak, and are of­ten at­trib­uted to dis­putes over busi­ness, lo­cal pol­i­tics or crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.

The junta has blamed anti-coup groups for a se­ries of small bomb at­tacks in Bangkok this year, us­ing them to jus­tify the im­po­si­tion of mar­tial law and the tough new se­cu­rity pol­icy that re­placed it on April 1.

AP

In this Fri­day, April 10 photo, Thai of­fi­cers ex­am­ine the wreck­age of a pickup truck af­ter an ex­plo­sion at Sa­mui Is­land in Su­rat Thani prov­ince, Thai­land.

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