Bombs trigger Myanmar travel warnings

By Hla Hla Htay, AFP

YANGON–Western governments have warned travelers to exercise extreme caution in Myanmar after a series of minor bomb blasts, including one at an upmarket hotel that injured an American woman. Britain, France, the United States and Australia all urged their nationals to be vigilant, although they stopped short of advising against travel to the former junta-ruled country. “There is a high threat from terrorism,” the British foreign office said in updated advice following a blast at the Traders Hotel in the city late Monday.

“Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by foreigners … The motivation for the attacks is at present unclear,” it added. The bombings come as Myanmar prepares to host a major regional sporting event in December and chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year. Observers said the small explosions were likely aimed at stoking panic and harming reform efforts by the new quasi-civilian government, rather than causing mass casualties. No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, which bore some similarity to explosions seen under the former junta, which usually blamed armed exile groups or ethnic rebels. The injured American was taken to hospital with wounds to her thigh and her hand after a blast tore through her room at Traders, which is popular with foreign tourists and business people. Officials said they detained a 27-year-old suspect early Tuesday in the southeastern state of Mon on suspicion of breaking the explosives act and causing serious harm to others. He had previously stayed in the room at the Traders Hotel where the blast occurred. An unnamed source from the Karen National Union (KNU) rebel group told AFP that the man was one of its members, adding that he could have been trying to show “dissatisfaction” with a tentative ceasefire deal between the rebels and the reformist government. But KNU Vice President Naw Zipporah Sein denied the group was involved. The U.S. embassy in Yangon urged caution, but said there was currently “no indication” that Americans were specifically targeted. Australia warned that “further attacks could occur at any time,” while France also urged “great vigilance” in public places. Police said several other people have been questioned in connection with the series of blasts in Yangon and other cities.