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Responding to Bomb Blast, Thai PM Says Peace is Necessary to Hold Elections

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Mariyam Ahmad
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
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Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha talks to reporters about a hospital bomb attack, May 23, 2017.
Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha talks to reporters about a hospital bomb attack, May 23, 2017.

One day after a pipe bomb injured almost two dozen people at the military-run Phra Mongkutklao Hospital, Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Tuesday told reporters that new elections would not occur until the country was at peace.

Shortly after the explosion, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, Gen. Chalermchai Sitthisart blamed people opposed to the junta-led government for placing the pipe bomb packed with nails near a pharmacy in the hospital.

“What I want everyone to realize today is that as long as our nation is under bomb attacks, the use of war weapons, instigation to wedge apart the society – the same old troubles – how can (I) set the elections date?” Prayuth told reporters Tuesday at Government House in Bangkok, explaining why peace must precede the elections.

National Police Chief Chakthip Chaichinda said investigators had not ruled out whether Monday’s bombing was carried out by separatist rebels from the Deep South or by a group politically opposed to the government.

Prayuth said he did not know why the hospital was attacked.

The bomb blast coincided with the third anniversary of the 2014 military coup, the latest of 13 military takeovers in Thailand during the past nine decades. At least six explosions have occurred in Bangkok since the 2014 coup.

“I don’t think it is linked to the third anniversary of the NCPO. But it will be up to investigation,” Prayuth told reporters, referring to the National Council for Peace and Order, the official name of his junta. He said the blast was not a “false flag attack.”

Prayuth, who leads the NCPO, took office as the 29th prime minister months after he ousted the democratically elected Yingluck Shinawatra government on May 22, 2014.

A former member of parliament (MP) under Yingluck’s administration said the latest bombing is a sign that Prayuth’s government needs to step down.

Yingluck also issued a statement on her Facebook page, saying Thais “have not seen any concrete reforms” from the military junta.

“Without reform, it is wasteful because of enormous economic damage from the overthrow of democracy,” she said. “Therefore, I hope that it will not be three years of waste.”

After taking office, Prayuth presented a road map listing a time frame leading to the elections after approving an updated constitution and establishing election-related regulations. The election date has been postponed several times since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016.

“Why do we need to have a clear-cut date? I would say we are following the road map to the elections, except for the nation running into turmoil,” Prayuth said.

Series of bombings

Since August 2015, Thailand has sustained several bombings, including one at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok’s Rajprasong tourist district that killed 20, and the August 2016 attacks on tourist sites in seven southern provinces.

More recently, a small bomb exploded on April 5 at the old lottery building, slightly injuring two people. On May 15, a similar bomb exploded in front of the national theater, injuring two.

Chakthip told reporters those blasts could be related to Monday’s attack because of the similarities of the bombs.

On Tuesday, Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Srivarah Rangsipramanakul told reporters a forensic team tried to find trace DNA evidence from a vase where the pipe bomb was hidden and to check the security cameras, but discovered many were not working.

Meanwhile, in the insurgent-wracked Deep South, police in Yala’s Krongpinang district said two Thai rangers were killed when a roadside bomb exploded Tuesday. Elsewhere in Pattani, a Muslim man was shot dead by an unknown assailant.

Bombings often take place in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South, where almost 7,000 have been killed in violence linked with the insurgency since 2004.

Opposition speaks

Sunai Julaponsathorn, a former MP for Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party, told Voice TV’s Facebook channel that the bomb was a call for the junta to step down after three years in power.

“The fresh bomb attack on the third anniversary of the coup does not need interpretation,” Sunai said. “It was only meant as an eviction of the NCPO. The longer the junta is in power, the more frequent the bombs explode.”

The Pheu Thai Party on Tuesday joined its political foe, the Abhisit-led Democrat Party, and human-rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to condemn the hospital attack.

“The bombing of a hospital is an outrageous rights abuse that shows total disregard for human life,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Bombing hospitals not only risks the lives of patients and medical workers, but disrupts medical care for many more.”

“Thai authorities should ensure those responsible for this heinous crime are apprehended and brought to trial,” Adams said on HRW’s website on Monday.

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