Bombs hit eight car showrooms in Thai south

BANGKOK - Bombs hit eight car and motorcycle showrooms in Thailand's rebellious Muslim south almost simultaneously on Thursday, wounding nine people, despite post-coup government gestures to encourage peace, police said.

Police said they had been on the alert for attacks in Yala a day after Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont visited the city.

"We knew they were going to do these, but we didn't expect the showrooms to be the target," Yala police chief Major General Paitoon Chuchaiya told Reuters by telephone.

The bombs, all timed to explode around midday, were hidden in brand new cars by militants posing as potential customers, Paitoon said.

"We are confident salespeople at these showrooms must have seen those bombers and can give us useful information to find them," Paitoon said.

The worst of the nine wounded was a woman who worked at one of the motorcycle shops. She lost her left hand and suffered head wounds, hospital staff said.

More than 1,700 people have been killed in almost three years of separatist insurgency in the region where 80 percent of the people are Muslim and speak a Malay dialect.

The attacks came a day after Surayud went to a Yala school founded by an insurgent leader to appeal for an end to the violence, reinforcing his policy U-turn from elected predecessor Thaksin Shinawatra's hardline approach to the insurgency.

Last week, Surayud apologized for Thaksin's iron-fist policies blamed for stoking unrest in the region.

His government, appointed after a bloodless coup ousted Thaksin on September 19, then dropped charges against 92 Muslims involved in a 2004 demonstration and agreed to pay compensation for the deaths of 78 protesters.

Southern Muslims, an ethnic Malay minority in overwhelmingly Buddhist Thailand, deeply resented Thaksin's refusal to apologize for the deaths of the 78 crushed or suffocated in army custody.

Source: Reuters