Australia warns of threat in Thailand


CANBERRA, Reuters

Australia issued a travel alert for its citizens in Thailand on Thursday, the second in little more than two weeks, saying intelligence pointed to a high threat of extremist bomb attacks.

“We continue to receive reports that terrorists may be planning attacks against a range of targets, including tourist areas and other places frequented by foreigners,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said in its latest advisory.

Bangkok has been on heightened alert since bombs on New Year’s Eve killed three people in the Thai capital and wounded more than 30, including six foreigners.

“Further terrorist attacks could occur at any time, anywhere in Thailand,” the advisory said.

But Thai officials said they had not received any reports of such threats.

“I can assure you that we have never received such reports that there will be any terrorist attack anytime soon,” Lieutenant-General Prayud Janocha, who is responsible for security in Bangkok, told Reuters.

The Australian advisory said the risk stemmed from separatist violence in the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla, where more than 2,000 people have died in three years of violence.

“The increase in violence in southern Thailand may lead to attacks elsewhere in Thailand, including Bangkok and other tourist areas, such as Phuket and Pattaya,” it said.

Prayud said last month the military-appointed government put Bangkok on security alert after intelligence reports warned of possible attacks in the city ahead of a Buddhist holiday last weekend, which passed without incident.

He also said the military’s analysis also pointed to threats on March 13 15, the anniversary of a Muslim Malay separatist group, and a Thai water festival in April.

But army Commander-in-Chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin said on Thursday the threat of attacks was a mere psychological ploy.

“I don’t think they are capable of doing that since we have the full control of the region,” Sonthi told reporters before flying to meet top security officials in the Muslim south.

Last month, 38 bombings and around 26 arson attacks took place over a two-day period in the Muslim far south, killing seven people and wounding scores.

Targets included entertainment venues, power grids, service stations, telephone lines and a department store, as well as two government schools and Narathiwat central mosque.