Updated: 07/25/2014 23:20 | By Agence France-Presse

Three dead, dozens wounded in Thai car bomb

A car bomb exploded on Friday outside a hotel in insurgency-wracked southern Thailand, killing three people and wounding more than 30 others, police said.

Three dead, dozens wounded in Thai car bomb

Members of a bomb squad inspect damaged vehicles caused from a bomb explosion outside a hotel at Betong district in Thailand's southern province of Yala on July 25, 2014 - by STR

The blast ripped through a busy shopping street in the border town of Betong in Yala province which is popular with tourists from neighbouring Malaysia.

A Malaysian tourist was among those hurt, according to police.

Firefighters were seen battling to extinguish a blaze sparked by the bomb as a plume of black smoke rose from the blast site.

Police inspected the mangled remains of what appeared to be the car used in the attack, almost completely destroyed by the explosion.

"A car bomb went off in front of Holiday Hill Hotel at around 4:00 pm (0900 GMT)", Lieutenant Colonel Sophon Saisuree told AFP by telephone.

"It's a busy area with many shops, hotels and motorists passing by in the evening," he said.

Of the wounded, three were in critical condition while 30 others had minor injuries, he said in an updated toll.

Sophon described the bomb as "handmade".

- Decade of bloodshed -

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but suspicion was likely to fall on Muslim insurgents waging a decade-long campaign against the Thai state.

More than 6,100 people have been killed in near-daily bombings and shootings in the Muslim-majority region near Thailand's southern border with Malaysia since 2004.

Buddhists and Muslims alike fall victim to the shadowy insurgents, who target security forces, civilians and perceived representatives of state authority.

Earlier this month three Muslim policemen were shot dead in an ambush by suspected militants as they returned from evening prayers.

Foreign tourists are not usually thought to be the targets of the militants.

Last year several rounds of tentative peace discussions between some rebel factions and the Thai authorities raised cautious optimism for a political solution to the conflict.

But the talks stalled as a political crisis erupted in Bangkok last year, culminating in a coup in May by the army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

The junta has curtailed civil liberties across the country and ruled out elections until around October 2015.

Many local Malay-Muslim in the restive south accuse the authorities of widespread human rights abuses and a lack of respect for their religion, culture and language. 

The militants have demanded a level of autonomy from Thailand.

Police said they had been on heightened alert for possible attacks in the region towards the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Despite the increased vigilance, the authorities admitted that they were taken by surprise by the magnitude of the attack.

"We did not expect unrest to cause as much damage in Betong as this," said Colonel Banphot Phunphian, spokesman for the military's Internal Security Operations Command.

"These are the last three days of Ramadan so General Prayut ordered us to keep an especially close eye on the situation" in the south, he added.

Ramadan is sacred for the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims because it is during that month that tradition says the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

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