Security personnel are hunting for more than 20 suspected insurgents who launched a bloody attack on village security volunteers in Yala province early yesterday.
The incident injured 18 security volunteers, six of them seriously, at a checkpoint in Yaha district.
As of press time, seven of the victims had been discharged from hospital. "The attackers also made off with the volunteers' guns," said Colonel Pramote Phrom-in, spokes-man for the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 Forward Command.
He said security officials were gathering evidence in an effort to bring the culprits to justice.
"We will also review and boost our security preparations," he said.
Yala is in Thailand's southernmost region, which has been plagued by unrest for about a decade.
According to police, the attack took place around 1am. "They fired grenade launchers first, then M16 machine-guns. It lasted for around 30 minutes," said Tanongsak Wang-supha, Yala police commander.
Pramote said a special ranger task force had been dispatched to help security volunteers during the firefight, making it possible to control the situation.
Tanongsak said: "The rebels want to reassert their power as now the villagers are cooperating with state authorities."
Tens of thousands of soldiers, police and paramilitaries enforce security across the impoverished South. The government also pays and arms thousands of village volunteers to provide their own security, especially in remote Muslim areas.
Deputy Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha had ordered relevant authorities to take the best care of the injured security volunteers.
"He is also sending moral support to officials working in the deep South," Sansern said.