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SLUG: 2-323742 Thailand Violence (L-O)
TITLE=THAILAND VIOLENCE (L ONLY)
HEADLINE: Government Warns Thais to Be Alert After Bombings in South
INTRO: The Thai government has told its people to be alert for signs of attacks by militants, particularly in Bangkok, after a series of bombings in the southern provinces. As Ron Corben reports from the Thai capital, the bombings led to several Western countries warning nationals against travel to Thailand's south.
TEXT: Thailand stepped up security around the country, including in the capital Bangkok, in reaction to the latest bombings by militants in the southern provinces.
The bombings in Songkhla province left more than 70 people injured and at least one person dead.
Analysts say the attacks indicate Muslim insurgents are broadening their operations, which had largely remained within the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani during the past 15 months.
The Thai defense minister is warning people to be aware of the risk of further attacks around the country.
Thai police have stepped up protection at Western embassies, train stations and department stores in Bangkok.
John Wideman, country manager for security consultancy, Armor Group, says the attacks marked a dangerous new sophistication by the bombers.
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"The bombs themselves and their construction seem to be relatively standard. What we're seeing in terms of sophistication here is better targeting and with multiple devices being detonated at the same time."
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Several Western countries, including the United States, Britain and Australia, have warned their nationals against traveling to southern Thailand.
The three southern provinces have faced almost daily attacks by insurgents since January last year, leaving more than 700-people dead. But critics say heavy-handed security measures by Thai forces have undermined efforts to halt the violence and build support among southern communities.
Thai Muslims have long complained of discrimination by the government of mostly Buddhist Thailand.
Human-rights group Forum Asia warns the government against over-reacting to the latest violence. Forum Asia's secretary general, Gothum Aryra says the government should remain within the law when dealing with the violence.
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"We should do more in terms of intelligence, information, vigorous investigation as well as trying to look for the possible troubles in the future and prevent them. (But) keep the policy direction based on justice, rule of law, as it should be."
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Recently, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the government would step back from its hard-line approach, which had led to allegations of illegal arrests and killings by security forces. That policy may be tested by new attacks and growing fears of attacks farther north.
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But Armor Group's Mr. Wideman says the government faces the risk of new attacks.
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"It will be sometime in the future that we will see actual armed force attack against a government facility and that will be the red flag for the next stage."
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Government advisers blame the recent bloodshed on remnants of Islamic militant groups that operated in the 1970s and 1980s in southern Thailand. But no group has publicly claimed responsibility for the attacks. (SIGNED)
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