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Bomb Kills 2 in Thailand's Muslim South


A bomb has exploded at a market in a mainly Muslim town on Thailand's border with Malaysia, killing two people and wounding another 16. It is just the latest incident in a three-year-old, low-intensity war between the Thai government and suspected Islamic militants.

More than 1,800 people have died as a result of bombings and random shootings since a shadowy campaign of violence flared up in Thailand's three heavily Muslim, southernmost provinces.

Police said the bomb that went off Monday at an outdoor food market in the town of Sungai Kolok was hidden in a motorcycle and detonated remotely by a cellular phone, just as shoppers were in the midst of making their morning purchases.

A bystander was killed immediately, and a soldier who was wounded by the blast, along with three of his colleagues, died later from his injuries.

Jiemjit Chaiwichacharn, who lives near the market, says she was lucky to have escaped unhurt.

She says that when she arrived at the market to buy shrimp, she did not see the motorcycle carrying the bomb. She says she was told by a friend that the man who parked the vehicle at the market left in a hurry.

Sungai Kolok has been the scene of frequent bombings over the past three years. The worst occurred in February 2005, when an explosion near a hotel killed five people and wounded 40.

Monday's bombing came a day after suspected Muslim militants riding on a motorcycle opened fire on a tea shop and killed a local government official and two of his friends.

Thailand's new government - which was ushered in after a September 19 military coup ousted twice-elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - has made resolving the conflict in the country's deep south one of its main priorities. It has apologized for the discrimination Thailand's Muslims suffered under Mr. Thaksin, who took a hard-line approach to quelling the violence.

The interim prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, has visited the region three times and offered to talk to the insurgents. But those visits have been followed almost immediately by bombings or shootings.

The militants have never made their aims public nor claimed responsibility for any of the attacks. But many analysts believe the most radical elements among them want to reconstitute the three southern provinces into an independent Muslim sultanate that was annexed by mainly Buddhist Thailand more than a hundred years ago. The government says giving up the three provinces is out of the question.

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