Higher security for South as Songkran festival approaches

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SONGKHLA, April 1 – Provincial authorities have intensified security in this southern province after receiving a special alert for possible disturbances and violence as foreign tourists start pouring in to celebrate Thailand’s annual Songkran water festival.

Immigration and other government personnel at checkpoints in this Malaysian border province, particularly at Baan Kuan Meed in Chana district and Baan To-Nont in Na Thawi district, have been reinforced by army rangers and policewomen.

The provincial intelligence unit warned of possible insurgent attacks during the week-long traditional water-splashing festival which draws large numbers of tourists every year.

This year’s Songkran activity starts on April 12. The event normally attracts many tourists from neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

Meanwhile, Maj Gen Ruangsak Suwannaka, commanding general of the Thai army’s 42nd Military Circle, presided over Buddhist religious bathing rites at a military camp in Songkhla on Sunday for Nithi Shinawan, a volunteer ranger, who was killed in a motorcycle bomb incident in Pattani’s Mayo district on Saturday.

Attacks on government forces have continued despite ongoing peace talks between the Thai authorities and key Muslim insurgent leaders. The first dialogue was held in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur last Thursday and the second one is set for April 29.

Sunday also marked the first anniversary of multiple car bomb attacks by southern insurgents in Yala municipality in which 11 military and police personnel were killed and over a hundred others injured.

Some districts in Songkhla have been declared sensitive areas together with three southern border provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, Thailand’s areas which are predominantly ethnic Malay Muslim in population