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Army chief: bank bombers aim to separate south from Thailand
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2006-09-02 16:06
Royal Thai Army Chief Sonthi Boonyaratkalin Friday condemned the militants who planned Thursday's almost-simultaneous bomb explosions at 22 banks in the southern border province of Yala, saying the attacks was meant to move the region further along the road to separatism.

Calling the bombers as "inhuman," the army chief said the perpetrators wanted to internationalize the issue in order to allow external players to get involved in Thailand's internal affairs.

"We are now fighting with the militants and their sympathizers who are aiming to separate the region (from Thailand). They want to raise the issue to international level to bring in outsiders like the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to play a major role in solving the issue," Sonthi was quoted by Thai News Agency as saying Friday, adding that the authorities must deal with the issue with caution.

The Army chief has recently been assigned by caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to oversee security operations in the troubled southern border region, including the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, where the ongoing violence has claimed more than 1,300 lives since a militant raid on an army depot in Narathiwat in January 2004.

Sonthi also said that the Army would negotiate with leaders of suspected militants in a bid to solve the southern violence, according to The Nation, a Bangkok-based newspaper.

He said that after the attacks on Yala banks on Thursday, establishment anniversary of the militant group The United Front for the Independence of Pattani (Bersatu), the army have clearer pictures on who are leaders of the insurgents. "We now prepare to launch talks with them," the general said, without any further elaboration.

However, he said government forces still do not know for sure who they are fighting.

"I have ordered the military to find their leader," he said. "I will try to talk with their core leader, because otherwise we cannot restore peace in the south."

Meanwhile, Air Chief Kongsak Wanthana, who is also the Interior Minister, said he has ordered security in the three southern border provinces to be further reinforced, particularly at all commercial banks, in the wake of intelligence reports warning thatmore attacks similar to Thursday's bombings are imminent later this month.

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