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Phu Thap Boek blast possibly linked to resort evictions

Bomb disposal experts search the scene of the explosion near Phu Thap Boek in Lom Kao district in Phetchabun which killed a pickup driver and injured two tourists on Sunday. (Photo by Soonthorn Kongwarakom)

PHETCHABUN: The explosion near Phu Thap Boek on Sunday could have been intended as a threat against the ongoing campaign to demolish illegally built resorts and restaurants on the scenic mountain, officials said.

Or it could have been old ammunition left over from fighting in the area exploding.

Provincial governor Pibul Hattakitkosol said on Monday authorities have not ruled out a connection between the blast and the crackdown on illegal housing built for tourists visiting the mountain in Lom Kao district.

The explosion on Sunday killed Suan Onta, a 63-year-old pickup truck driver, as he went to a roadside bush to urinate. Two tourists were wounded by shrapnel. One was released after treatment. The other is still in Phetchabun Hospital but said to be improving.

Suan's pickup was modified to carry tourists visiting the mountain.

Phu Thap Boek was once a battlefield between soldiers and fighters of the former Communist Party of Thailand. This led to the theory the explosion could have been an old bomb. (continues below)

Officials show an electrical wiring found at the blast site near Phu Thap Boek in Lom Kao district in Phetchabun. (Photo by Soonthorn Kongwarakom)

Security officials and explosive ordnance disposal experts scouring the blast site on Sunday said a 60mm mortar round could have been the cause of the explosion. They also found electrical wiring in the bushes. The area remains cordoned off for further investigation.

The blast scene is also near an assembly area used by park and local body officials before they go up the mountain to demolish illegal resorts and restaurants.

The explosion went off a week before authorities plan to resume their clampdown.

The governor on Monday said all places defying the order to move out will be demolished, regardless of Sunday's explosion.

The deadly blast has raised questions about the safety of Phu Thap Boek, which is the district's most popular tourist attraction.

Deputy police spokesman Kritsana Pattanacharoen called for calm, while the governor insisted that the explosion would not damage tourism at the mountain.

"People should not be panic on what happened. Police, soldiers and local authorities are trying to quickly find out the cause of the blast," Pol Col Krissana said.

Investigators have not ruled out either it being old ammunition or an explosive placed by a defiant owner of an illegal resort or restaurant, the spokesman added.

Phu Thap Boek was set aside by authorities to help preserve the farming lifestyle of resettled Hmong hilltribe people. Many resorts and restaurants have since been built there illegally by outsiders. The owners have been ordered to move out. Many have complied with the order and those who defy it are seeing their places demolished by authorities who then bill them for the work.

The crackdown has been carried out step by step, and is ongoing.

The mountain became famous after several movies and advertisements used it as a location for filming.

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