Thai police rule out terrorism in blasts at resort towns

HUA HIN: The blasts at four of Thailand’s resort towns the past 24 hours which killed at least four people were acts of local sabotage and not linked to any international militant group, police said.

Police were investigating but had not yet found any connection between the blasts in three popular tourist destinations in the south, deputy police spokesman Piyaphand Pingmuangsaid told reporters.

It was also unclear whether the blasts were related to an insurgency in Muslim-majority provinces in southern Thailand, he said.

Junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha called the bombings an attempt to trigger unrest in a country blighted by a decade-long political crisis.

“The bombs are an attempt to create chaos and confusion,” Prayut told reporters in Bangkok.

“Why have the bombs occurred as our country is heading towards stability, a better economy and tourism – and who did it? You have to find out,” he said.

Four people have been killed in the blasts – two in Hua Hin, one in the island gateway town of Surat Thani, and one in southern Trang, with many others injured. There were also blasts on the tourist island of Phuket.

“Twin bombs at the clock tower killed one and injured three,” said Hua Hin district chief Sutthipong Klai-udom, referring to the two latest blasts in the town on Friday that followed twin bombings there the night before.

The two earlier bombs were hidden in potted plants and went off within 30 minutes of each other in the bar district of the popular beach town.

There were two explosions on the tourist island of Phuket on Friday along with one in the island gateway town of Surat Thani, and one in southern Trang on Thursday, officials told AFP.

In Surat Thani, provincial governor Wongsiri Promchana said the bomb, hidden in a flower bed, exploded in front of the marine police offices, killing a municipal worker and injuring another man.

“I think it’s related to the blasts in Hua Hin,” Mr Wongsiri told AFP, referring to the overnight attack in the town that lies further north.

In Phuket, the first bomb exploded near a police box, wounding one Thai man, a police officer said. The second exploded 300m away and nobody was hurt, he said.

Two blasts were reported in the neighbouring Phang Nga province Friday morning, Bangkok Post reported. No one was injured. The blasts followed a fire that gutted a weekend market in the early hours of Friday, the report said.

The cause of that fire is under investigation, and could have been a bomb.

While small bombings are common in the kingdom during periods of heightened political tension, there have been few such incidents in the past year and it is rare for tourists to be targeted.

Hua Hin is home to the summer palace of Thailand’s revered royal family and the blast came on the eve of Queen Sirikit’s 84th birthday and just ahead of the first anniversary of a Bangkok shrine bombing that killed 20.

The authorities were searching for leads on the attackers and a motive behind the latest blasts.

Hua Hin’s district chief Sutthipong told AFP that the bombs on Thursday evening were detonated by mobile phone.

According to staff at local hospitals, German, Italian, Dutch and Austrian nationals were among the wounded.

“It was very shocking. There was a loud noise and police were running everywhere, it was terrible,” said Mr Michael Edwards, an Australian tourist staying in a guest house close to where the second bomb detonated.

“I was just surprised that it happened here... now I’m thinking if it’s worth staying,” he told AFP.

Hua Hin is an upscale resort town about 200km south of Bangkok, popular with both local and foreign tourists. It is also home to a palace for years favoured by Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch.

The 88-year-old is currently hospitalised in Bangkok for a myriad of health complications, a pressing source of anxiety for many Thais and a key factor in the kingdom’s past decade of political turmoil.

Thailand’s reputation as the “Land of Smiles” has suffered in recent years from crimes against foreigners and political unrest. But tourists continue to flock to its white, sandy beaches and Buddhist temples.

The kingdom is expecting a record 32 million visitors in 2016, with the tourism industry a bright spot in an otherwise lacklustre economy.

The latest blasts came just days before the first anniversary of the last major attack on tourists in Thailand – an Aug 17 bomb attack at the famous Erawan shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people, mostly ethnic Chinese tourists including a Singaporean woman.

Two Uighur men from western China have been accused of the attack and are due to go on trial later this month. Both deny any involvement in the bombing and mystery continues to swirl around the case, with authorities failing to catch a number of other suspects or offer a thorough explanation for a motive.

Thailand’s military junta, which seized power in 2014 after a decade of at times violent political unrest, has touted an increase in stability in the kingdom as a major accomplishment of its rule.

Yet the generals have failed to quell a long-running Islamic insurgency in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces – a region far from Bangkok or Hua Hin. The conflict is largely contained to the far south but violence has occasionally spilled into other areas.

Mr Zachary Abuza, an expert on militants in South-east Asia, said it would be “very unusual” for the insurgents to target Hua Hin.

If southern rebels were behind the recent blasts, “it is almost definitely a small cell operating on their own initiative”, he told AFP. - Wires

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