Concern Deepens Over South Thailand Troubles

By Mark Mayne | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Kuala Lumpur ( - International concerns are growing about Islamic separatist violence in Thailand's southern provinces after two separate incidents that left one person dead and five injured.

Just hours after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally appealed to the Thai government to clamp down on terror, a bomb blast on the Thai-Malaysia border seriously hurt three policemen and two bystanders.

Separately, a man was found beheaded in Yala province. The body of Boonchan Saipeth, 59, also bore multiple bullet wounds. Separatists are suspected.

The latest blast coincided with a visit by a fact-finding team from the Organization of the Islamic Conference to assess the volatile situation in the area. The OIC has previously criticized Thailand for its handling of the violence, accusing it of disregard for human rights.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's government maintains that the surge in violence is not related to the al Qaeda terrorist network.

However, experts fear that the beheadings and recent orchestrated bombings point to the likely involvement of al-Qaeda-linked groups such as Jemaah Islamiah, blamed for the Bali bombing in 2002, and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.

Thai Defense Minister Gen. Thammarak Isarangura Na Ayutthaya said Thai officials had assured Rumsfeld that recent violence in the predominantly Muslim South was not related to "international terrorism," but was a local problem the Government would deal with.

"The unrest is not terrorism, just our domestic problem," Thammarak told reporters.

Rumsfeld said Washington was keeping a close watch on the unrest. He said he was relieved to hear of the efforts being taken to quell the security tension, adding the U.S. was willing to do its part to help.

Rumsfeld urged Thai officials Wednesday to join up with Malaysia's newly-established Anti-Terrorism Center to aid the fight against terror in the broader region. Linking to the Malaysian center would enable the government to exploit its anti-terrorism resources, he said.

During talks with Thammarak, Rumsfeld said Thailand's role in the center would help extend anti-terrorism work in the region. Essential data would also be exchanged and the center would relay warnings of impending threats, he said.

The center receives equipment and intelligence support from Washington. Apart from intelligence assistance, the U.S. has also supplied it with everything from modern technological apparatus to aerial maps, a Thai Defense Ministry official told reporters.

At a high-level meeting in Singapore on Monday, the defense secretary called for more cooperation between Malaysia and Thailand to combat terror in the Malacca Strait.

The U.S. earlier raised the possibility of patrolling the waterway - one of the world's busiest and most vulnerable to pirates - but littoral states Malaysia and Indonesia cited sovereignty concerns and rejected the idea.

See earlier story:
Thailand, Neighbors Squabble Over Ongoing Muslim Violence (Dec. 23, 2004)

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