Asia Crisis

Bar bombs kill one, wound 4 in Thai Muslim south

BANGKOK, Oct 31 (Reuters) - A spate of small bombs have hit nine karaoke bars and restaurants frequented by Buddhist civil servants in Thailand's rebellious Muslim south, killing one and wounding four, police said on Wednesday.

Following the overnight attacks, rebels in the region, where more than 2,600 people have been killed in 45 months of separatist insurgency since 2004, planted two more time bombs that were defused before they went off, police said.

Attacks on security forces and civilians rose in October after a drop in September during the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan, a researcher said.

Srisompob Jitpiromsri of Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani said the monthly number of violent incidents fell to 114 in September with 65 people killed in the mostly ethnic Malay region.

That was down from 229 incidents in August in which 73 people were killed and compared to a range of 110-247 in previous months of 2007, he said.

"We can't say the situation has improved significantly, but we can say the violence has remained stable," he told Reuters.

Since July, security forces have launched almost daily raids on suspected insurgent hideouts in villages and towns and have detained dozens of people without charge.

Human rights groups are critical, saying detainees are exposed to potential abuses by the army, which is operating under martial law that grants soldiers immunity from prosecution.

On Tuesday, three provincial courts ordered the army to free 86 Muslims detained without charge and put into a forced job training programme.

However, these people could not return home immediately as the southern army chief had ordered them banned from the far south, an independent emirate until annexed by mainly Buddhist Thailand a century ago, until January, their lawyer said.