Thai junta rules out link between latest bombs and tourist-town attacks
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Thai soldiers inspect the scene of a car bomb blast outside a hotel in the southern province of Pattani, Thailand August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom
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By Panarat Thepgumpanat and Pracha Hariraksapitak
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's military government said on Wednesday there was no connection between two bombings overnight that killed one person in the southern town of Pattani and a wave of deadly attacks on tourist spots this month.
One Thai person was killed and 30 wounded when two bombs exploded late on Tuesday at a hotel in the deep-south town of Pattani, less than two weeks after a wave of bombings hit towns in seven provinces in the central south.
No group has claimed responsibility for the tourist-town bombings, which killed four and wounded dozens, including foreigners, but suspicion has centered on Muslim separatists based in the deep south of the predominantly Buddhist country.
Security experts say the ethnic Malay, Muslim insurgents have a record of coordinated bomb attacks, which they usually do not claim.
Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, however, ruled out any link between the earlier attacks and the twin bombs in Pattani, which is near the Malaysian border and has for years been plagued by separatist violence, particularly since an intensification of the decades-old insurgency from 2004.
"I am sure that the incident in Pattani last night has nothing to do with the seven provinces attacks," Prawit told reporters without elaborating.
Tourist towns in the central south have for years been spared any spill-over of violence from the deep south and analysts say the government is loath to blame the coordinated bombings this month on southern insurgents because of fear of damaging the tourist industry.
No arrests have been made in connection with the attacks in the tourist towns but warrants for three suspects have been issued. Authorities have given few details of the suspects.
Police said the first explosion in Pattani was in a carpark at the back of the hotel and caused no casualties. The second bomb at hotel's front entrance appeared to have been in a stolen hospital pick-up truck.
The war between government troops and insurgents has killed more than 6,500 people in the three southern-most provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, over the past 12 years.
FRUSTRATION OVER STALLED TALKS?
Talks between the government and a handful of shadowy insurgent groups began in 2013 under the civilian government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, but have stalled since the military overthrew her in 2014.
Prawit said the military government would not talk with separatists until there was peace.
Experts say the spate of attacks would appear to reflect frustration over the stalled negotiations.
"It's possible that it is related to uncertainty about the peace talks," said Srisompop Jitpiromsri, an expert on the conflict who runs the Pattani-based Deep South Watch, which monitors violence.
Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, an independent analyst who has written two books on the conflict, said the blasts this month were likely the work of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (National Revolutionary Front, or BRN), which has carried out "similar patterns of attack" in the past.
"They could be sending a message to the government to take the peace dialogue more seriously," she said.
Still, the military insists security in the south has improved. The number of soldiers in the south is due to be cut to about 60,000 from 70,000 in 2011, a military spokesman said.
There is deep distrust between Muslims and authorities in the region, which rights groups say is partly due to decades of government neglect and a culture of impunity among military officials operating there.
The three provinces soundly rejected a referendum this month on a new military-backed constitution, which passed convincingly in most of the rest of Thailand.
(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Cod Satrusayang and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)
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