BY Steve Sandford – Since 2004, more than 5,000 people have been killed in attacks in Thailand’s southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Naratiwat. At the end of March, coordinated bomb attacks in shopping centers killed 14 people and wounded hundreds more — one of the deadliest operations in years. One city in the region is Hat Yai, a city that, until the latest violence, had been spared from bombings in recent years.
A newborn boy clings to life in a Thai hospital as his mother, Nisachon Kotchakun.
Two-month-old Kanapat Intara Suwan is the youngest victim of the late March attack by suspected separatists in southern Thailand.
Hat Yai lies northwest of the areas worst hit by separatist violence, and some fear the latest attacks indicate the conflict is spreading north.
“I feel sad when I hear stories about people [getting killed] in the deep south. Now it has happened to my family. It’s very terrible. Sometimes I want to give up,” Nisachon said.
Shortly before the explosion in Hat Yai, closed-circuit TV cameras recorded two suspects leaving the car bomb in the underground parking lot.
At least three people were killed and hundreds injured in what appeared to be a coordinated attack, just hours after a similar bombing in neighboring Yala province.
Local vendor Wan Lah works across the street from the building and says the indiscriminate attack is troubling.
“Whoever did this, they had no heart. They didn’t think about other people’s lives. If that happened to their own family, how are they going to feel. This is very terrible,” Wan said.
Meanwhile, at the Imperial Lee Garden hotel, officials are hustling to try to restore the town’s safe reputation ahead of the annual Thai New Year celebrations.
Tourism is a big money-maker for local business, with mostly Malaysians and Singaporeans coming to the area.
Tourist police are trying to convince businesses that all is well.
“Things are OK. We’ve talked to many tourists who say they will be coming back. No problems,” said police official Col. Maj. Kittiphan Detsuntonwat.
Despite those assurances, more bombings in neighboring Yala province have put the region on high alert, as authorities try to track down who is behind the coordinated attacks that display a worrying level of sophistication.