Search still on for bomb masterminds

South remembers multiple attacks

Forensic officers gather evidence at a blast site in Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district on Aug 12, 2016. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)

One year after multiple bomb blasts and arson attacks in seven provinces, the situation has returned to normal but police have still failed to identify who masterminded the attacks.

The incidents, which left four people dead and 36 others injured on Aug 11-12 last year, created chaos in the central province of Prachuap Khiri Khan and the southern provinces of Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phangnga, Phuket, Surat Thani and Trang.

The attacks happened shortly after the Aug 7 constitution referendum, which attracted some opposition.

These seven provinces had never been known as areas of conflict between separatists and the government. "It has remained unclear which group was responsible for the incidents," national police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda told the Bangkok Post.

"We believe that the attackers came from the southern border provinces and they were hired by some political group, but there has been no obvious clue what they did it for."

However, Pol Gen Chakthip said, security has been beefed up in the upper part of the South because there are reports that more Muslim people from the deep South have moved to upper provinces.

On the first anniversary of the incidents, however, the situation has returned to normalcy in these provinces, including at the Center Point market in Trang municipality where a bomb exploded a year ago and killed one person.

Many people and tourists flocked to the market yesterday to buy things despite it being the first anniversary of the bombings.

"Many people have forgotten the incidents. Tourists have been continuously increasing after the number of visitors drastically dropped after the bomb blasts," said a dessert vendor in Trang.

That premise, however, excludes Wantanee Wiriyanupapong, 51, a food vendor at the market who was seriously injured and lost her husband in the explosion. She never returned to sell food in the market after the bombing.

"I still can't get over it," she said. "I'm not angry with them [the attackers] any more. I believe that it is my and my husband's karma. I hope I can return to sell things at the market one day."

Amid uncertainty about the identity of the real masterminds, security officers have to stay alert to all scenarios, including a worry that southern unrest may spread out of the three southernmost provinces and parts of Songkhla, said a security source yesterday.

Security in the far South has been beefed up following an order issued by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who wants authorities to keep a watch on insurgent groups, especially during the anniversary of the attacks.

Intelligence reports on violent attacks planned for mid-August have kept rolling in to authorities, but officers are confident that severe insurgent events will hardly occur because "police have cut their chances", Pol Lt Gen Ronnasilp Phusara, chief of the Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Center, told the Bangkok Post.

Security officers' ongoing efforts to curb the insurgency are satisfactory to a certain extent. According to Pol Lt Gen Ronnasilp, there have been almost no violent incidents in Yala for more than two months and similar events are on the decline in Pattani, where there were only reports of shootings with fewer bomb blasts.

Only Narathiwat is still a concern as violence has continued, Pol Lt Gen Ronnasilp said.

The unrest seems to decrease in general partly because "police can identify many insurgent suspects, which bars them from launching attacks as a result", Pol Lt Gen Ronnasilp said, describing the current situation as "normal".

Among those whom police believe were blocked from engaging in new attacks are 50 insurgent suspects in Yala, he said. They were allegedly involved in an earlier attack on security officers in the province's Krong Pinang district.

A Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) guerrilla group was suspected of being behind a gun and bomb attack at a security checkpoint in the early hours of April 3, wounding 12 police officers, a source close to the investigation said earlier.

After names of the suspects were obtained by authorities, police have tried to hinder them from entering areas and meeting to hatch new plots in Yala, Pol Lt Gen Ronnasilp said.

Under this current atmosphere, villagers are satisfied with the officers' efforts to tighten security. They feel safer and are more willing to cooperate with the government, he said.

Pol Lt Gen Ronnasilp also applauded police investigators for their better capability to classify types of violence in the deep South because not all incidents resulted from the years-long separatist movement in the region.

Some involved conflicts among drug gangs and local influential figures or even quarrels between villagers, he said.

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