Thailand on Full Security Alert after Bombs at Airport, Department Store

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A bomb exploded in Thailand's Muslim-majority south on Monday, wounding four soldiers less than a day after a series of blasts rocked a nearby province - killing at least two people and wounding more than 70 - in ongoing separatist violence.

The bomb was buried in a road at a technical college in the capital city of Yala province when it exploded in the early afternoon, wounding the soldiers as they were starting a patrol of the area, said police Maj. Gen. Parinya Kwanyeun. Further details were not immediately known.

Meanwhile, airports, railway stations and other tourist destinations in southern Thailand were on full alert after three blasts Sunday rocked Songkhla, a province just north of where an Islamic insurgency has been active since early last year.

The explosions at the Hat Yai airport - the main gateway to Thailand's far south - a department store and a hotel raised concerns that Muslim insurgents were expanding their reach. They were the first major attacks outside the country's three southernmost provinces, where more than 800 people have died since January 2004.

The explosion at the Hat Yai airport killed two people, Songkhla Gov. Somporn Chaibongyang said. In total, 74 people were wounded in the three blasts, including an American woman, a French woman and two people from Brunei, the Public Health Ministry said.

"We have to check the security at all airports and railway stations in southern Thailand," Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications Phumtham Wechayachai told reporters Monday.

Interior Minister Chitchai Wannasathit said security at airports, tourist spots and other key areas would be tightened to the same level as during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Thailand in October 2003.

He also said authorities have footage of the attackers at the Hat Yai airport from closed circuit cameras, but declined to give further details.

The airport bomb was left in a bag by an unidentified man in the waiting area, Gen. Chaiyasit Shinawatra, the Thai military supreme commander, said earlier. The bomb at the Green World Palace Hotel in the city of Songkhla, not far from Hat Yai, was hidden in a motorcycle, police said.

No one claimed responsibility for the blasts, but they were likely linked to the insurgency in Thailand's Muslim-dominated southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, where shootings or small bombings have occurred almost daily since January of last year.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra condemned the explosions, expressed his condolences to the victims and said security had to be strengthened.

"We are working toward unity," Thaksin said. "As for prevention and suppression, we have to work intensely, and we won't leave behind peaceful methods."

Thaksin has been criticized previously for adopting an iron-fist policy that critics said would only breed more insurgents. However, he has recently called for a more measured approach that would de-emphasize military action.

Muslims in southern Thailand have long complained of discrimination by the central government of the predominantly Buddhist kingdom.

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