At least 29 bombs exploded Sunday in apparently coordinated attacks in parts of southern Thailand plagued by a Muslim insurgency, killing three people and wounding more than 50, the military said.
The bombings targeted hotels, karaoke bars, power grids and commercial sites in the country’s southernmost provinces, the only parts of predominantly Buddhist Thailand with Muslim majorities. Two public schools were torched.
Sunday’s attacks were first time insurgents struck all four of Thailand’s Muslim-majority provinces at the same time, said army spokesman Col. Akara Thiprote. The bombs, triggered by digital watches, exploded between 7:15 and 8 p.m.
Police said three Thais of Chinese descent were also gunned down in Pattani province in what was believed to be the act of insurgents. The killings occurred as the country’s Chinese community was celebrating the Lunar New Year Sunday. Another person was shot and killed in Narathiwat province.
The violence continued Monday morning when homemade bomb killed a Thai army officer near his home in Yala province and wounded a 7-year-old boy, provincial police chief Maj. Gen. Phaitoon Chuchaiya said. In Narathiwat, a bomb explosion injured three policemen as their patrol neared a small railway station.
‘Hearts and minds’ campaign
Violence in the south has been escalating in recent months despite a major policy shift by the military-imposed government, which is trying to replace an earlier, iron-fisted approach in dealing with the rebels with a “hearts and minds” campaign.
More than 2,000 people have died in the provinces bordering Malaysia since the insurgency erupted in 2004, fueled by accusations of decades of misrule by the central government. The insurgents have not announced their goals, but they are believed to be fighting for a separate state imbued with radical Islamic ideology.
In Sunday’s attacks, two people were killed and 33 injured in Yala province, while one person died and 20 were wounded in a tourist town in Narathiwat province, said Col. Wichai Thongdaeng, a military spokesman.
“We believe that the attacks were planned to cause division, create fear among the people. They want to show that they are still capable (of carrying out attacks),” he said, adding the military has sent additional troops to the region.
Two explosions tore through electricity transmitters in Pattani province, causing blackouts in several areas, said Pattani police Maj. Gen. Kokiat Wongworachart.
Five bombs exploded in the border town of Sungai Kolok, a popular destination for Malaysian and Singaporean tourists, said Maj. Gen. Yongyut Chareonwanit, the Narathiwat police chief. At least two schools in the province had been torched, he said.
Wichai said nine bombs went off in the Yala provincial capital and another seven in the border town of Betong, which also attracts tourists to its entertainment venues. A sizable number of Sunday’s bombings were against karaoke parlors, which are regarded as decadent by the Islamic rebels.
Two bombings were also reported in neighboring Songkhla province.