Southern influx 'not a threat' in bomb-hit community

Locals insist their neighbourhood is not an insurgents' bolthole

Residents of the Ramkhamhaeng area insist their neighbourhood is not a hideout for southern insurgents, but police continue to probe a possible far South link to the May 26 bomb blast.

The street life is lively at the scene of the May 26 bomb blast at the mouth of Ramkhamhaeng Soi 43/1. PHOTOS BY THANARAK KHOONTON

The Ramkhamhaeng explosion injured seven people and stoked public fears over whether insurgents in the far South are extending their operations to Bangkok.

Police arrested two suspects in Narathiwat and one of them, Idris Sapator, 24, allegedly confessed he was involved with the violence in the deep South. Authorities say they are trying to verify the information.

Mr Idris and another suspect, Affaham Sa-a, 25, were apprehended in separate operations in Narathiwat under the emergency decree.

The Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) said police have tightened security in the Ramkhamhaeng area, which is home to a large population of young people from the South who study at Ramkhamhaeng University.

However, several Ramkhamhaeng residents brushed aside suspicions their neighbourhood is a hideout for offenders.

Treeyos Chaimut has lived in an apartment at Ramkhamhaeng Soi 51 for more than five years. He said police had a negative view of Ramkhamhaeng and its residents from the South.

"Ramkhamhaeng is not as dangerous as they think. Violence can happen anywhere," said the 33-year-old Nakhon Si Thammarat native.

He said the May 26 blast was the first incident of its kind since he has lived in the area.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that Ramkhamhaeng is a hideout for insurgents, he said.

If southern offenders really wanted to ignite violence in capital, they would attack other areas, he said. They would not cause trouble in their own neighbourhood, because it would draw too much attention, he added.

Usa Zo-dob, 33, a Surat Thani native, said people can make up their own minds about the neighbourhood, but she welcomed more attention from the police.

"There are lot of different people who live here," she said. "I'd be glad if the police would monitor the area closely, because we have many social problems here, especially drug use among teenagers."

She has run a food stall in Ramkhamhaeng Soi 53 for 10 years.

Ramkhamhaeng University students Wannihda Salae and Suwaibha Yama said their lives have not changed much since the attack.

"It might not be a hideout for southern insurgents as most of people living here are university students," said Ms Wannihda, 18, who lives in a student dormitory on Ramkhamhaeng Soi 53.

Anassawee Pimpisarn, 35, said the police probably branded the area as a hideout because of the attack and the large population of southerners.

"At my condominium [on Ramkhamhaeng Soi 30], there are more southern people arriving to live. Maybe they are coming to Bangkok to escape the violence in the far South," she said.

The assumptions the police have made about the southern links will not benefit the peace talks in the far South or help to solve the violence, she said.

The police should focus on preventing more attacks here, she said.

MPB deputy commander Pol Maj Gen Adul Narongsak said the city police have classified lists of young people who live in the Ramkhamhaeng area.

"Most of them have no problems," he said. "Some of them who are on the 'suspicious list' do not live here permanently. They come and go." Police are watching them closely, he said.

Hua Mak police station chief Pol Col Narongrit Phromsawas oversees Ramkhamhaeng. He said the area rarely has serious criminal cases.

Police regularly patrol the area and keep an eye on internet cafes, pubs and the university, he said.

Muslim students are among pedestrians walking past a mosque in the Ramkhamhaeng area.

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Writer: Lamphai Intathep & Manop Thip-Osod