Thai junta accused of exploiting bombings for political ends

BANGKOK — Critics of Thailand's military government accused it on Sunday of taking advantage of last week's spate of deadly bombings and arson attacks to crack down on its opponents.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, better known as the Red Shirts, issued their criticism as Thai authorities said they were keeping security high after attacks Thursday and Friday killed four people — all Thai — and wounded dozens in seven tourist destinations. Injured foreigners came from Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Reports by Thai PBS television and other media said at least three people identified as Red Shirt leaders or supporters have been detained since Saturday at army camps, apparently for questioning about the attacks.

All were reported to have been held under special laws enacted by the junta after it seized power in May 2014 from an elected government. Article 44 and other laws allow the temporary detention of suspects without due process or accountability.

Officials have hinted that political opponents of the junta were responsible for the attacks, but Thai and foreign terrorism experts have suggested they were carried out by Muslim separatists from southern Thailand. It is widely understood that the authorities were casting suspicion upon supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who include the Red Shirts.

The Sunday before the attacks, a national referendum approved a new constitution proposed by the military government that is supposed to lead to an election next year. The Red Shirts were among the critics of the charter, calling it undemocratic and saying it was fashioned to keep the military in control for at least five more years even if a free election is held.

"Deliberately causing chaos that would give the NCPO an excuse to keep control and sovereignty for a longer time, and it is not the way to solve any problems of this country," the Red Shirts said in a statement Sunday. The junta's official name is the National Council for Peace and Order.

"They accuse us of being responsible for the violent acts without any evidence or claim to support the accusations. Their intent is to destroy their competitors so that support would be given to a government that came into power from force," the statement said.

The tactics of the bombers were similar to those used in Thailand's deep south, where a low-level Muslim separatist insurgency has killed more than 5,000 people since 2004. Several experts have speculated that southern militants could be using the attacks to pressure the government for concessions in on-again, off-again peace talks.

Anthony Davis, a writer for Jane's Defence Weekly, told The Associated Press that the Patani-Malay National Revolutionary Front separatist group was the sole opposition force that could carry out such a well-planned, well-coordinated operation in Thailand's southern region.

With the Red Shirt movement being closely monitored by the security forces, "the theory that they could have organized such a complex operation under the noses of the military government makes no sense," he said.

He added that if the supposed motive was anger over the recent referendum outcome, "the planning and preparation for these attacks would have had to take place within three days. And that makes even less sense."

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