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Thailand declares martial law

From CNN Bangkok Bureau Chief Tom Mintier

Thai police examine the explosion site in Pattani proviince, Thailand.
Thai police examine the explosion site in Pattani proviince, Thailand.

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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Thailand's government has declared martial law in three southern provinces after the most widespread bout of violence to hit the region since 1993.

At least two policemen were killed and several other people were wounded in at least two explosions in Pattani province on Monday.

Police say one officer died while trying to defuse a bomb while two other bombs were reportedly found before they could go off.

The bombings come after 21 schools were burned and a military armory was raided in a neighboring province.

Four Thai soldiers were killed Sunday in the raid on the army base, where more than 100 weapons were stolen.

The killings and the violence in southern Thailand are the most widespread since 39 schools were set on fire in 1993.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudth declared martial law in three of the provinces, where the majority of the nation's six million Muslims live.

"We have neglected imposing our legal power of the existing martial law," he said. "From now we have to revive the use of the martial law."

The order concentrates power into the hands of Thailand's regional army commander.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cut short a beach holiday and called an emergency meeting of security officials to discuss the situation.

Violence in the south of Thailand has for years been blamed on a group of separatists who vowed to turn the region into a Muslim state, launching attacks on police and government-operated schools.

This time some observers are blaming a recent government crackdown on illegal weapons.

A two-month weapons amnesty program ended in mid-December with more than 100,000 weapons either turned in to police or abandoned along the road or in rice fields.

Thailand has been awash with an illegal weapons trade following decades of war in neighboring countries like Cambodia.

Thai police and military units are currently searching for those responsible for the fires and the attack on the army weapons depot.


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