Thai police link beach-town bombings to Muslim insurgency

August 29, 2016 5:26 AM EDT

Damage is seen after a blast outside a hotel in the southern province of Pattani, Thailand. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai police identified on Monday a third suspect wanted in connection with a wave of bombs in tourist towns this month that killed four people and for the first time linked the attacks to Muslim separatists operating in the far south.

Thailand's tourist industry had been largely spared a spill-over of violence from a decades-old insurgency in the far south and authorities had at first dismissed any connection between the Aug. 11-12 bombings and the separatists.

But police issuing an arrest warrant for a third suspect on Monday said all three of the people they wanted to question had links to previous attacks blamed on the Muslim insurgents.

"The three suspects for which we have obtained an arrest warrants are known to have ties to other previous attacks in the southern provinces," deputy national police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen told Reuters.

Police identified the third suspect as Asamin Katemadi and said he was also wanted in connection with a 2015 bomb attack on the tourist island of Samui.

Four Thai people were killed in the coordinated bomb attacks in various tourist town south of Bangkok this month and dozens were wounded, including foreigners.

The military government, apparently loath to spread alarm in the tourist industry, the one bright spot in a generally flat economy, at first dismissed any suggestion the Muslim separatists battling the predominantly Buddhist country's government might be to blame.

Authorities even hinted that supporters of ousted populist premier Thaksin Shinawatra might have been responsible. He denied any link.

Thailand's three far-south provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are majority-Muslim and resistance to central government rule has existed there for decades, resurfacing violently in 2004.

More than 6,500 people have been killed in the largely ethnic Malay region since then in bombings and shootings that take place almost daily, according to Deep South Watch, a group which monitors the conflict.

Peace talks between the government and shadowy insurgents group began in 2013 under the civilian government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, but have stalled since the military overthrew her in 2014.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday meetings were taking place between the government and various insurgent groups in Malaysia but he insisted that there needed to be a cessation of violence before further terms were discussed.

"As long as there is violence, can there be any trust?" he said when reporters asked him about the situation in the south.

Bangkok-based analyst Anthony Davis, at security consulting firm IHS-Jane's, told Reuters that the recent increase in violence may be due to dissatisfaction over the talks.

(Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Cod Satrusayang; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Robert Birsel)

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