Australia warns of bomb threat in Bangkok

Friday February 23, 6:39 PM

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Australia told its citizens in Thailand to be on
extra alert on Friday after receiving reports of possible bomb attacks
on crowded places in Bangkok, such as department stores or public
transport.

Interior Minister Aree Wong-araya said he did not believe Bangkok
would be attacked and extra security measures such as bag searches at
the entrance to subway stations, in place for several weeks, were
purely precautionary.

“I don’t want us to be too quick to jump to such a conclusion
or to have too much concern,” the Thai News Agency quoted him as
saying.

The Australian embassy, in a travel advisory on its Web site
(www.austembassy.or.th/), said people should “exercise a high degree of
caution because of the high threat of terrorist attack”.

“Reports indicate possible bombing attacks at crowded places
such as department stores, and sky-train and subway stations in Bangkok
on Friday 23 February 2007,” it said.

Travel advice on the Web sites of the British and U.S. embassies remained unchanged.

The stock market, which has become highly sensitive to security
threats since a series of bombs killed three people in Bangkok on New
Year’s Eve, fell around 0.5 percent on the news.

At first, the government suggested the New Year blasts were
linked to politicians who had lost out in the Sept. 19 military coup
against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

However, some investigators are now saying the coordinated
explosions may have been the work of Muslim militants from the far
south, where more than 2,000 people have died in three years of
separatist violence.

So far, the unrest has stayed in the immediate vicinity of the
four southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani and Songkhla,
where 80 percent of the population are ethnic Malay Muslims.

Last weekend, a string of around 50 bombs, shootings and arson
attacks targeted Lunar New Year celebrations in the region, killing
eight people.

Amid speculation about militants infiltrating student ranks,
Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University — an open institution with as many
as 100,000 students — said it was keeping an eye on a 1,000-strong
group from the south called “PNSY”, after the provinces of Pattani,
Narathiwat, Songkhla and Yala.

However, officials said there was no evidence to suggest they were linked to the southern unrest.

“As this group is from the far south, we usually talk to them to
prevent them from being persuaded to do anything wrong,” vice president
Sommai Surachai told Reuters.

“This group has never caused any damage and is not violent. It gathers only for religious activities.”

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat)

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