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Bangkok Bomb Plot

Bangkok Bomb Plot

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Eight small bombs which killed three people and injured 38, including nine foreigners during Bangkok's New Year celebrations, were a plot by supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, according to the military junta which overthrew him in a September coup.

Islamist guerrillas fighting for an ethnic Malay homeland in southern Thailand played no role in the bombings, the coup-installed regime insisted on Monday (January 1).

America, Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand warned their citizens on Monday (January 1) about the bloodshed in Bangkok.

"The Department of State, and the American Embassy in Bangkok, urge all American citizens in Bangkok to stay indoors whenever possible, to avoid all public gatherings, and to remain extra vigilant as they travel in and around Bangkok," the U.S. Embassy said on its Web site.

The military regime was unable to display evidence to support their allegation that Mr. Thaksin's political supporters staged the bombings. Mr. Thaksin denied involvement.

"Thaksin strongly rejects the allegations and said that his [ousted] government, which came from people, would not hurt its people," Mr. Thaksin's lawyer, Noppadol Pattama, told reporters on Monday (January 1).

"The [coup-installed] government should not rush to conclusions by trying to relate the attacks to previous governments. It is totally unfair and untrue," Mr. Noppadol said.

Mr. Thaksin was visiting China, but anxious to return to Thailand so he could defend himself against allegations of massive corruption during his five years as prime minister.

Surayud Chulanont, the coup-installed prime minister, also indicated the bombs were a plot by Mr. Thaksin's former supporters, but did not name names.

"Based on the [coup-installed] government's information and intelligence agencies, it was the work of people who lost power, but I cannot clearly say which group was behind it," former general Surayud told a news conference on Monday (January 1).

"It is very unlikely that it was linked to the southern [Muslim] violence, because it is much easier for the insurgents to mount an attack in the three southern provinces than to target Bangkok," Mr. Surayud said.

At about 6:30 p.m. on New Year's eve (December 31), six bombs erupted across Bangkok wrecking a bus stop, a Chinese shrine, police booths, and other sites, killing two people and injuring more than 20.

Fearing more bloodshed, authorities quickly cancelled public New Year count-down parties, closed shopping malls, and issued warnings throughout this Southeast Asian country to avoid large gatherings.

A few minutes after midnight, two more bombs exploded on Monday (January 1) at a sea food restaurant packed with foreign tourists, and in downtown Bangkok's main zone for the public New Year count-down.

Several people, including foreigners, were injured in those two pre-dawn blasts, but casualties could have been much worse if authorities had not ordered thousands of revelers to go home after the first series of bombs.

Injured foreigners included four Hungarians, three Serbians and two Britons, according to police.

A third Thai died from injuries on Monday (January 1).

If proof emerges that Islamist guerrillas unleashed the New Year bombings, it could make the military junta vulnerable to complaints that the army is too busy playing politics in Bangkok after their bloodless coup on Sept. 19, critics said.

"Finger-pointing has begun, and so have conspiracy theories," warned the Nation, an anti-Thaksin newspaper which cheered the coup. Initial police reports said the eight Bangkok bombs contained ammonium nitrate in small boxes, hooked to digital watches as timing devices.

In March 2004, Islamist rebels stole "about 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds)" of ammonium nitrate from a quarry in southern Yala province, Mr. Thaksin's spokesman, Jakrapob Penkair, said in an interview at the time.

Islamist guerrillas also successfully staged several synchronized bombings in the south during the past few months.

On Aug. 31, Islamists exploded 22 small time-bombs in 22 banks, killing two people in the Muslim-majority south's Yala province.

The military has been unable to crush the insurgency which has killed more than 1,800 people on all sides since January 2004.

The junta recently warned that the Islamists may be planning a sensational attack in the south to commemorate an infamous raid when they stole more than 100 U.S.-supplied M-16 assault rifles, attacked schools and police posts, and killed four troops before escaping on Jan. 4, 2004.

Daily bombings, assassinations and other assaults by the shadowy separatists in Thailand's three southernmost provinces have caused Buddhists to flee -- a strategy the rebels hope will result in a defacto Muslim homeland.

But their violence had been contained in the south, despite the rebels' condemnation of Buddhist-majority Thailand's annexation of the ethnic Malay, southern provinces 100 years ago.

Thailand's coup leader, Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, warned on Monday (January 1) of more possible assaults in Bangkok.

Gen. Sonthi told a news conference that the junta would organize training for staff from gasoline stations, department stores, factories and elsewhere so they could spot potential terrorists and alert authorities.

When a reporter asked the coup leader if the army might use the chaos to launch another coup, Gen. Sonthi replied: "No way. I believe the army will not do that."

*****

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent


-ENDS-

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