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Thai Authorities Search for Smuggled Missiles - 2003-10-01


Thailand said Wednesday it is hunting for several surface-to-air-missiles smuggled into the country from Cambodia. Although Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is dismissing the matter as rumor, some authorities fear the weapons could be used to disrupt this month's meeting in Bangkok of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC.

Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who is in charge of national security, says the portable surface-to-air missiles were smuggled into Thailand via its eastern border with Cambodia, which has a thriving illegal weapons market.

Mr. Chavalit said that the government has known about the missiles for some time and has urged the police to find them for fear that terrorists might use them to mount an attack during APEC's summit meeting next month.

He added that the government is taking elaborate security precautions before the meeting, where 21 heads of state will be staying in Bangkok, including President Bush.

Terrorism expert and author Rohan Gunaratna says the missiles are not a particular threat to Bangkok's international airport because airplanes can only be hit during takeoff and landing. "As long as the security forces are alert, it will be very difficult for a terrorist group to mount a surface-to-air missile attack," said Mr. Gunaratna. "If the flight path is secured, then a terrorist group cannot mount a surface-to-air missile attack against an aviation object."

Thailand has stepped up security in general since the capture in August of top Southeast Asian terror suspect Hambali in the central Thai city of Ayutthaya.

Hambali, an Indonesian, is believed operations chief of the al Qaida linked Jemaah Islamiyah or JI, which reportedly aims for a pan-Islamic state across parts of Southeast Asia.

Thai authorities say JI was recently planning terrorist attacks on the embassies of the United States, Israel, and Australia in Bangkok.

JI is believed responsible for a series of deadly bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines, including one a year ago on the Indonesian island of Bali that claimed 202 people, many of them foreign tourists.

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