Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Guns 'n gazes in Thailand’s Narathiwat

THERE are no foreign tourists in Narathiwat — which is strange for Thailand.
And if you walk around this town deep in the kingdom’s troubled south today, you will notice that most motorcycles parked by the side of the road have their seats tilted upright.

Also, if you have hopes of making calls on your hand phone since you have international roaming service, forget it. There is no connection unless you buy a local prepaid SIM card. But you need to register your name and other details.

If you are a foreigner your passport number is a must.

The reason: motorcycles and mobile phones equal bombs. They are both known to be popular components in assembling explosive devices and the measures imposed by the Thai authorities are for security reasons.

Motorcycles are a common mode of transport in southern Thailand and the humble kap chai is also its making presence felt in a deadly way—by being used as a moving cannonball in which hidden home-made bombs are detonated.

The latest was last Tuesday, just before Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, made a historic joint visit to the district.

Two people were killed and 11 wounded as a motorcycle bomb exploded in a busy market in Narathiwat, one of three mainly Muslim provinces where nearly 4,000 people have been killed so far in a five-year long insurgency.

In most cases, the bombs are placed under the seat or in the petrol tank of the motorcycle and are detonated from a distance by keying in certain numbers on a mobile phone.

Motorcycles that are parked without their seats tilted up will be inspected by patrolling security men using bomb detector s.

Such is the situation in Thailand’s restive south that you cannot be sure about even the most innocent-looking object around you, whether it is a tin of carbonated drink or a clump of plastic bags.

That’s why, unlike other parts of Thailand, you hardly see tourists in this area. No backpackers, no budget hotels, no home-stay facilities.

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