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Thursday, August 31, 2006


Bangkok, 31 August (AKI) - More than a dozen bombs exploded, nearly simultaneously, at banks in predominantly Muslim southern Thailand on Thursday, killing at least one person and wounding scores of others, local authorities said. The attacks occurred at commercial banks in downtown Yala and others in outlying districts. Police said homemade bombs, triggered by mobile phone signals, were placed in rubbish bins, at newspaper stands and near seats. "This is a coordinated operation. It happened within the same hour," a Thai army officer was quoted as saying. "It caught us by surprise."

The army chief in the south, Lieutenant General Ongkorn Thongprasom, said some of the devices were hidden in women's handbags or inside books carried by students.

A review of close-circuit video showed that some explosives were planted by women, police said.

The Islamic Bank of Thailand was among those attacked, according to reporters at the scene. The bank, set up in five southern provinces by the government, was created according to Muslim law, which prohibits interest.

"It's scary. We can't estimate the damage yet," said Pridiyathorn Devakula, head of the Bank of Thailand, the country's central bank, in Bangkok.

Army intelligence officials have been warning civilians in Thailand's three southernmost, provinces of possible terrorist acts on Thursday, which marks National Day in neighbouring Malaysia.

More than 1,300 people have been killed in Thailand's three Muslim-dominated provinces -Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat - since a resurgence of a violent separatist movement in January 2004.

In Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, the majority of the population is Malay, the language used is Yawi (a dialect of Malay). The three provinces are among the poorest in the country, with an unemployment rate of respectively 35, 28 and 25 percent against the national average of 14 percent.

Most analysts claim that Muslim militants fighting for independence are responsible for only part of the unrest reported which they say is also caused by criminal groups attempting to control the territory and by corrupt politicians and parts of the army.
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