Small bombs hit popular southern Thai beach, damaging statue

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SONGKHLA, Thailand (AP) — Two small bombs exploded at a popular beach in southern Thailand, one of them damaging an iconic statue beloved by tourists, police said.

Police in Songkhla province said they're looking into whether the bombs late Wednesday were related to a Muslim separatist insurgency that has wracked nearby provinces since 2004, taking almost 7,000 lives.

One of the explosions damaged the Golden Mermaid statue, which is an unofficial symbol of the province, said police Lt. Gen. Ronnasilp Phusara. The other took place about 300 meters (yards) away, near the beach's Cat and Mouse sculpture.

Police said a bomb disposal squad discovered and destroyed three other explosive devices found near a trash area and under rocks near the Golden Mermaid statue.

The insurgency has mostly affected the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, which have Muslim majorities in predominantly Buddhist Thailand. Songkhla, with a substantial Muslim population, has generally been spared the violence, though its biggest city, Hat Yai, has suffered several bombings.

Although terrorism is not considered a major problem in Thailand, tourist spots have been sporadically targeted since 2006, when a series of bombs were set off in Bangkok at New Year's Eve gatherings, killing three people and wounding more than three dozen.

In 2016, bomb explosions in five beach towns popular with tourists killed four people and wounded dozens.

In both cases, southern separatists were suspected but responsibility was never definitively established.

Thailand's most spectacular attack in recent years occurred at the Erawan Shrine in the center of Bangkok's tourist district in August 2015. Twenty people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed and more than 100 hurt.

Thai authorities blamed human traffickers angry at a crackdown, but another theory holds that it was carried out by militants from China's Muslim Uighur minority in retaliation for Thailand sending back to China a group of Uighurs who had fled repression there. Two Uighur men are currently on trial for the bombing.

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