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Extremist arson burns 400 million baht of rubber

(, dpa)

Southern insurgents on Wednesday set alight Thailand's largest rubber warehouse in the troubled deep South, sparking a 12-hour conflagration that blanketed Yala City in a cloud of black smoke.

Insurgents threw firebombs to set the fire. Eventually, firemen from 30 fire trucks fought to control the flames.

The arsonists scattered spikes on the road leading to the warehouse to slow down firefighters and emergency workers going to the site, on the rim of Yala City, which is 760 kilometres south of Bangkok.

Kiart Kittikulsereekam, a Southland Rubber manager, said the warehouse was the largest in Thailand's deep South, which comprises Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces.

The fire destroyed an estimated 5,000 tonnes of rubber sheet intended for export, with total damages estimated at 400 million baht ($11 million), said fire and police officials.

The fire enveloped the building rapidly, feeding on the 1,000 tons of rubber sheet inside. According to police, more than 100 tons of rubber sheet had already been destroyed at this 8,000-square metre warehouse compound.

About 10 workers who were staying inside the building fled for their lives and no casualties were reported.

The arson attack comes on the heels of a spate of coordinated bombings, murders and arson on Sunday night in the three provinces, and also in neighbouring Songkhla, that killed seven people and left more than 50 injured.

Sunday's attacks appeared to target the Sino-Thai business community, deemed the backbone of the southern economy.

Rubber plantations, most of them owned and managed by Sino-Thais, are one of the main sources of employment and income for the region, which has witnessed escalating violence over the past three years that has already claimed more than 1,900 lives.

Experts on the deep South say the separatists have been increasing efforts to terrorise the Chinese business community as a means of further destabilising the economy and driving non-Muslims out of the three provinces which border Malaysia.

Meanwhile, a bomb went off at Sai Buri's district of Pattani, injuring two patrol soldiers on Wednesday morning.

They were rushed to Phra Yupharat Hospital in the district.

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