Car bomb kills policeman in rebel-hit Thai south

A car bomb in Thailand's conflict-hit south killed a policeman and wounded two others Tuesday

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A car bomb in Thailand's conflict-hit south killed a policeman and wounded two others Tuesday, as the kingdom's junta chief vowed to boost security in the Muslim-majority region during Ramadan.

The blast, which hit a police checkpoint sending debris and a thick plume of smoke into the sky, is the latest in a spate of attacks that have killed more than 20 people during the Muslim holy fasting month.

Violence in Thailand's "Deep South" -- the southernmost provinces bordering Malaysia -- tends to spike during Ramadan before rebels return home for the Eid festival.

The area has been battered by 12 years of violence between the Buddhist-majority state and shadowy Muslim rebels seeking greater autonomy for the culturally distinct provinces.

The region was annexed by Thailand more than a century ago.

Near-daily shootings and roadside bombs have left more than 6,500 dead since 2004, most of them civilians.

Tuesday's car bomb, a rare form of attack, was the second to strike the region in less than two weeks.

"The bomb was hidden inside a pick-up truck. The suspects drove and parked the truck at the checkpoint before fleeing," said Lieutenant Colonel Sompong Rongyang, a police officer at the scene in Nong Chik in Pattani province.

A policeman's body was found after a bomb disposal team cleared the site, police said, adding that two others were hospitalized for burns.

Thailand's military, which seized control of the country in a 2014 coup, has pledged to jump-start peace talks with the insurgents, but there has been little progress.

The military has however been credited with reducing violence with tougher security measures.
Junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha called Tuesday for heightened safety in the area, which is ruled under emergency laws and awash with military officers, ahead of Eid this week.

"We have to step up security measures and all forces must be on standby," he said.

Conflict monitoring group Deep South Watch, said there has been an uptick in violence during the final weeks of Ramadan this year, although overall the death toll was half of last year's.

Over the past month, 22 people have been killed and 47 injured, compared to 49 killed and 90 wounded during last year's Ramadan, according to the watchdog.