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Thai car bomb blast kills 5


(CNN) -- Authorities in Thailand are investigating a powerful car bomb that has killed five people in the country's Muslim-dominated south.

The blast, on Thursday evening, came on the heels of a visit to the volatile region by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who delivered a tough message on security.

The car bomb, said to be the largest to hit the region, exploded at 7 p.m. (1200 GMT) near the Marina Hotel in the popular tourist town of Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province, bordering Malaysia.

Five people died and more than 40 others were wounded in the massive blast, which destroyed several cars and motorcycles parked nearby.

Police are investigating whether the bomb, thought to be about 100 kg, was detonated by a mobile phone. No one has claimed responsibility.

Authorities say four bombs also exploded in the south the previous day, just hours before Thaksin's visit. Eight people were wounded in those blasts.

More than 600 people have died in fighting between government security forces and Muslim separatist insurgents in the impoverished Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani provinces since violence flared in January last year.

Thaksin was visiting the south to discuss his controversial plan to withhold development aid from Muslim villages if they help the separatist militants.

According to the Associated Press, Thaksin told villagers in the border town of Betong that the government planned to give more than $519 million in assistance to villages nationwide by April -- except to those designated as so-called "red zones."

"I don't want the money going toward supporting insurgents in the red-zone villages. I don't want the money to be used to buy guns and bombs," he said, AP reported.

"No one can use our money to separate (the three southernmost provinces) from Thailand."

"If the money sanctions do not work, I will send soldiers to lay siege to the red zone villages and put more pressure on them," Thaksin said.

But Abdulrohman Abdulsamad, chairman of the Islamic Council of Narathiwat, warned that slashing development funds would only push villagers closer to the militants and pave the way for local and international Muslim extremists.

"The Muslim world is monitoring the developments in this region closely, and when they find that we are being ignored or sanctioned by the government then they will step in to help," AP quoted him as saying.

Instead, the government should give more money to the area to win the trust of people, he said.

In recent years, Sungai Kolok has been the site of other bombings that have caused several fatalities, including a number of Malaysians.

In March 2004, the Marina Hotel was hit by a blast that wounded about 30 people.

Although Thaksin was re-elected in a landslide victory February 6, voters in the three restive provinces did not support any candidates from his Thai Rak Thai Party.

Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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