For anyone working in the southern border provinces there was always one safe place to stay.
The CS Pattani Hotel, owned by Anusas Suwanmongkhol, was a curiously safe haven from the violence.
After working all day in the provinces, criss crossing military check points and speeding through the lawless 'red zones', the CS Pattani was a welcome relief.
Working days in the south are characterized by a heavy military menace, burnt down schools, suspicion, fear, hostility, and nerve wracking drives through insurgent haunted lands.
Once off the main highway in front of the hotel, and driving up the well trimmed lawns with children's playgrounds and friendly business' lining the roads there was a sense of leaving the conflict zone.
Returning to the CS Pattani was a blessing and their hospitality and delicious local tea was a delight. If you look at the picture above, on the left, under the burned out arch cluttered with debris, and i presume some blood, was the best seating for a tea and chat with the those in the know.
There were also no soldiers and no police....not even the usual shifty youths that often haunt the streets. I remember drinking beer at the corner store beside the hotel (even though the hotel owner is a Thai Buddhist, there is no booze inside the well decorated southern-style hotel) and trying to spot the security.
There were the ubiquitous parking dudes. Wearing the classic 'blue collar suit' they do navigate cars into spaces but, as a form of real security, there are not.
I must have spent the length of three relaxing street-side Singhas and could not spot even one undercover security agent. No soldiers, no police, and not a single gun in sight. I could have dosed off for a nap because it just felt that safe.
And because it was deemed safe, the whose-who of knowledge brokers stayed there. There werent many tourists, of course, but the hotel was filled with local and foreign journalists, NGO types, academics, some 'intelligence analyst' types, and packs of political carpetbaggers ranging from those blessed with local knowledge to those simply blessed but with out any local knowledge like former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Simply put, everyone with an interest in the region stayed there or at least held meetings and drank tea there.
Given the nature of the hotel's safety record and its clients, rumors were rampant that the owner had made his own security arrangements.
The story goes that owner, Anusas Suwanmongkhol, had cut a deal with both the military and other shady characters who might or might not be insurgents.
By cutting a deal between both parties, a peaceful space could exist in the midst of daily chaos.
But, as violence continues year after year, all boundaries will eventually be tested.
Anusas Suwanmongkhol has also recently been appointed as a senator. And, as many people know, a certain percentage of violence in the region is not just separatist but general-political and general-business related. So the lines could be blurred.
The always informative Bangkok Pundit noted that because there was another car bomb (detonated prematurely killing the suspected bomber) at another location it does suggest that there was a coordinated attack on disparate targets which would lead to the suggestion that it was indeed an insurgent attack.
Ultimately, what this attack means is two things.
The first is that more sophisticated and larger scale attacks have started. Reports stated that a first bomb was detonated in a ground floor washroom that, presumably, was designed to empty the hotel guests into the lobby and the street. And that is where the car bomb was waiting for them.
The next is more rudimentary. All lines of safety have been erased and the size of bombs are growing in sophistication as well as their tactical aim of causing more and more casualties is being testing and will likely be perfected.
The deep south might have lost a safe haven, but the entire deep south has also woken up to a new escalation in violence.
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