Dep. PM Prawit Wongsuwan links Bangkok bombings to troubled south

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan

Bangkok (AP) — An official in Thailand has linked groups from the country’s troubled south to small bombings last week in Bangkok as it hosted a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers.

Only a handful of people suffered minor injuries, and there was little damage.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the suspects were groups from the south and police had made arrests. He said it was still being investigated whether politics were involved.

Prawit did not elaborate, but the government has for more than a decade been fighting Muslim separatist insurgents in the deep south. More than 7,000 people have died in the violence.

Police say 10 small devices exploded at various points in Bangkok last Friday as the foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations were meeting. Also attending the meeting were U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his counterpart from China. The proceedings were not affected by the bombs.

Asked how long the investigation would take, Prawit told reporters: “It involves many people. We have to check for details such as how did they travel here? Where did they get the bombs from? That type of thing. Please wait. But there is progress.”

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha also said little other than the investigation was progressing.

“Today, we’ve been able to interrogate more suspects, up to nine people now,” he told reporters. “That’s all you need to know for now. It will continue to be investigated so that they can be punished in accordance with the law by the justice system. The government needs to carefully process physical evidence and witnesses.”

Soon after the blasts, army commander Gen. Apirat Kongsompong blamed “the same old groups” for causing the unrest, a reference to supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 but whose supporters have continued to fight for power, sometimes using violent means. Thaksin’s supporters, known as the Red Shirts, disrupted a major meeting in Thailand of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2009.

Southern separatists have employed car bombs and roadside explosive devices in their struggle, but generally confined their activities to Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, the only ones with Muslim majorities in predominantly Buddhist Thailand. However, they are suspected of carrying out a series of bombings in 2016 at several popular resort areas outside their home turf, killing four people.

Bombings in Thailand are sometimes met with speculation that they have been carried out by a faction in the security services to embarrass opponents in a power struggle.