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Bombs Explode in Southern Thailand Ahead of PM's Visit - 2004-08-26

Two bombs have exploded in Thailand's troubled south, killing one person and injuring two-dozen. The blasts come a day before Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visits the area.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the latest violence in the south will not stop his planned visit there Friday.

His comments come after a bomb exploded in a market in Narathiwat Province early Thursday. The deadly device was apparently hidden in a motorcycle. A second bomb exploded later also in Narathiwat, but no one was hurt.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says Mr. Thaksin's visit to the south is aimed at boosting morale for the military and police.

"There are troops moving to secure certain pockets and trying to identify ring leaders and making arrests," said Mr. Wattanayagorn

This week, the prime minister announced he was replacing his Army chief in an effort to bring new ideas to resolving eight months of violence in the mostly Muslim southern provinces in Buddhist Thailand. More than 300 people have been killed.

The government blames a resurgent Muslim separatist movement, which had been active in the 1970s and 1980s.

Many analysts and experts say it is not clear who exactly is responsible and gangsters and rogue police may be taking advantage of the chaotic situation.

Pirayos Rahimulla, a Muslim teacher in the south's Prince of Songkla University, says the almost daily killings and bombings have shattered the normal way of life for the people living there.

"This is an unusual life now in southern Thailand, because we don't know who will stand behind everything in southern Thailand," said Mr. Rahimulla. "Bombs explode day by day, and killings day by day. Finally, the police cannot arrest any people. Even if they arrest someone, people say that it's not true, it's a scapegoat."

Thai human rights groups say dozens of people have been kidnapped or disappeared since martial law was declared in the south shortly after the violence broke out in January.

Prime Minister Thaksin has said it will take some time to quell the unrest in the country's impoverished southern region.