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Thai militants seek Muslim world's attention

Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, June 17 (Reuters) A series of bomb attacks in Thailand's Muslim south were launched by militants to coincide with a meeting of Islamic leaders in Central Asia next week, a top Thai security official said today.

Militants in the Thai southernmost region, annexed by largely Buddhist Bangkok a century ago, were trying by all means to have their struggle for a Muslim sultanate recognised by the Muslim community, said National Intelligence Agency chief Jumpol Manmai.

''They exploit all occasions, diplomatically or violently, to have their struggle recognised, especially by the OIC,'' Jumpol told Reuters, referring to the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

A three-day meeting of OIC foreign ministers is due to start on Monday in Azerbaijan, where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Cyprus will top the agenda, the OIC said in a statement.

Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon, whose country has observer status, will attend, his spokesman said.

At least 60 small bomb attacks took place on Thursday and Friday in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, killing at least two and wounding more than 30 people.

Security officials said they expected more explosions as more than 200 small bombs like those used in the past week had been smuggled from Malaysia into the region of 1.8 million people, most of them ethnic Malays who feel more connected to Malaysia than Thailand.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar urged Bangkok not to make Kuala Lumpur a scapegoat or a bogeyman for the unrest in the south, Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported.

''Pointing an accusing finger to this party and that party will not help in restoring peace and security but in fact will further worsen the situation,'' Syed Hamid told reporters in the southern Malaysian state of Johor yesterday.

Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur have exchanged verbal attacks since the separatist insurgency re-emerged in the Thai Muslim south in January 2004. More than 1,300 troops, civilians and militants have been killed.

REUTERS SHB VV1601

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