Thai authorities seeking suspect in southern car bombing

HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) — Police said Wednesday they were trying to identify the suspect in a bombing of police housing that killed one officer and wounded 45 other people in a part of southern Thailand troubled by a Muslim separatist insurgency for almost two decades.

Police said the suspect drove a black pickup truck into the compound then walked out after parking the vehicle. He was dressed to look like a plainclothes officer in the images captured by a surveillance camera. The wounded victims were mostly civilians, including three children.

Since the insurgency began in 2004, more than 7,300 people have been killed in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, the only provinces with Muslim majorities in Buddhist-dominated Thailand. Attacks have also taken place in neighboring Songkhla province. Several separate insurgent groups are active, some of which are engaged on on-again, off-again peace talks with the government.

Muslim residents, almost all of Malay ethnicity, have long charged they are treated like second-class citizens in Thailand, and separatist movements have been periodically active for decades. Heavy-handed crackdowns have fueled the discontent.

In August, a wave of arson and bombing attacks hit the three southernmost provinces, targeting mostly convenience stores and gas stations. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, which injured three people.

Tuesday’s attack on police housing was the second this year to use a car bomb, after one was set off in Pattani in June, injuring one police officer. However, there have been about 60 car bombings since 2005, according to police.

National Police Chief Gen. Damrongsak Kittiprapas said forensic experts believe the explosive device was fashioned from a 50-kilogram (110-pound) cooking gas cylinder.

The bombing was condemned by Human Rights Watch, which said “it appeared aimed at causing the greatest possible loss of civilian life,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch in an emailed statement.

“Those responsible for planning, ordering, or carrying out such attacks should be appropriately brought to justice, Human Rights Watch said, adding that it has repeatedly condemned both the Thai government and insurgent forces for their abuses during their struggle.

“Thai authorities should thoroughly and impartially investigate the bombing of the apartment compound and hold accountable all those responsible,” Pearson said. “At the same time, the Thai government should recognize that so long as Thai security forces can commit abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims with impunity, armed separatist groups will exploit that to try to justify unlawful attacks.”

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