PHUKET CITY: Governor Udomsak Usawarangkura has ordered a heightening of security for all government buildings and tourist areas in Phuket following Wednesday’s killings in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, and warnings by a Muslim separatist group that foreigners should stay away from the South and neighboring provinces. Phuket’s Provincial Police Commander, Maj Gen Veerayuth Sittimalic, said “We have seen the trouble in the South and will not be careless when it comes to people’s safety.” He said that security had already been beefed up at important places such as the airport and the oil storage depot on Cape Panwa, and more police had been moved to the night shift. In addition to extra guards at public places, Gov Udomsak also said that police will be posted at all government offices around the island, and office lights will left on throughout the night. “In the dark, it is easy to have trouble,” he explained. The decision to increase security coincided with a warning issued last night by the United Front for the Independence of Pattani (Bersatu) to “Dear People of the World” that the violence may spread from the South to other parts of Thailand. In its warning, delivered to the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) and reported around the world this morning, Bersatu said, “Persons who plan to visit Thailand NOW are warned not to travel to Patani Raya Region, (Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun, Songkhla) and the neighbour provinces (Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi, Pattalung).” The statement concluded starkly, “Pattani people are not responsible for anything that happens to you after this warning.” Bersatu was formed in 1989 to unite the splinter separatist groups in the Thai-Malaysian border area. Leaders from the various terrorist groups, including the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) and the Mujahadeen Pattani, met with the aim of “gathering fighters for Pattani”. The threat to people and interests in areas outside the five predominantly-Muslim provinces in Thailand (Satun, Pattani, Songkhla, Yala and Narathiwat) appears to be the first open declaration of hostile intent toward a wider population, including foreigners. Whether Bersatu genuinely intends to attack other parts of Thailand, or whether it is simply using the threat of violence to rattle tourist markets and thereby damage the Thai economy, is unknown. The warning came after more than 100 people, dismissed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as “teenagers who were given drugs and cash”, were killed by Thai security forces in Pattani. At least 30 were killed when police stormed a mosque. Although some within the ranks of the Thai authorities resolutely deny that this week’s violence was carried out by separatists, Singapore’s Straits Times today quotes Thailand’s Deputy Director of the National Security Command, General Panlop Pinmanee, as saying “It is absolutely certain that they are separatists. They were trained as guerrillas for separatist actions by BRN (the Barisi Revolusi Nasional) and PULO.” Australia was quick to advise its nationals to “exercise caution” during their time in Thailand, particularly in areas frequented by tourists and expats. The travel advisory from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs stated, “We continue to receive reports that terrorist elements in the region are planning attacks.” Foreign ministries of other countries updated their travel advisories to offer similar warnings, though none so far have mentioned specific tourist resorts by name. The affect on the tourism industry of the latest incidents and of Bersatu’s warning has yet to assessed. However, AFP quoted Napasorn Kakai, the TAT’s No 2 official in Phuket, as saying tourism “will be affected if the unrest is not over soon. “We are concerned that if the unrest continues it will finally affect Phuket and Krabi,” she was quoted as saying. There are serious doubts in many quarters in Phuket about the government’s ability to restore peace in the South. In particular, critics have targeted the national security forces’ perceived heavy-handedness and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s apparent continuing belief that he can solve highly complex problems with simplistic “just do it” policies.
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