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General news >> Saturday February 24, 2007
Sonthi: South not given top priority Army chief blames political distractions

WASSANA NANUAM MUHAMMAD AYUB PATHAN

Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratkalin admitted yesterday that he has been putting the insurgency in the restive South second, behind political matters, since leading the military in a coup last September. Gen Sonthi, who is also chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), said he had assigned the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc)'s Region 4 branch to take care of the southern unrest.

The military has taught him to classify target issues and prioritise them so the goal becomes easier to accomplish, he said.

He said there were not only political matters, but also national reconciliation to focus on, which he said was an urgent problem.

''Having said that, it doesn't mean I don't pay any attention to the southern unrest,'' he said.

Prai Pattano, the mayor of Songkhla's Hat Yai municipality, said the installation of surveillance cameras at 100 locations across the city, a major financial district, was progressing well.

All of the cameras will be up and running within two months, he said.

Cameras are being installed in response to a number of bomb attacks in the district, the most recent of which was late last year.

Coordinated explosions in Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla on Feb 18 killed seven people and injured scores of others.

Songchai Mungprasithichai, president of the Association of Professional Guides of Songkhla, said the attacks had scared away Malaysian and Singaporean tourists.

Tourism operators have been forced to rethink their marketing plans to survive, he said.

Many tour operators now take tourists for a brief shopping trip in Hat Yai before moving them on to neighbouring provinces for an overnight stay, he said.

Yala police yesterday released sketches of 10 suspects believed to have planted bombs in the attacks.

Police said the suspects were also thought to have been behind recent bomb blasts in Betong and Muang districts in Yala.

Police said the explosions in Yala town were caused by homemade devices. Some were detonated by digital clocks and others by remote control, police said.

In Yala's Krong Pinang district, a combined force of 100 armed security officers conducted a dawn raid in Ban Rue Pe village, believed to be a hiding place of weapons used in an ambush on the entourage of humanitarian fund raiser Thanpuying Viraya Chawakul. No weapons were found.

Australia warned its citizens in Thailand to be extra alert yesterday after receiving reports of possible bomb attacks in crowded places in Bangkok, such as department stores and public transport services.

''We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution because of the high threat of terrorist attacks,'' the Australian embassy said in a travel advisory on its website.

''Reports indicate possible bombing attacks at crowded places such as department stores, and skytrain and subway stations in Bangkok on Friday 23 February 2007,'' it said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kitti Wasinondh yesterday played down the Australian embassy's stringent warning, saying it was regular practice for foreign embassies to issue travel advice for their citizens.

He noted Australia's warning may have stemmed from the country's experience related to a bomb in Bali in 2002 in which 88 Australians were killed.

However, he said the ministry hoped Australia may consider toning down the warning once it felt assured of Thailand's heightened security measures.


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