More than 9,000 insurgents and their sympathisers are currently operating in the three southernmost provinces, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said yesterday.
Chalerm: Says rebels not typical insurgents
Mr Chalerm told a House meeting on the southern violence that the insurgency comprised 2,682 armed operatives as well as 6,769 sympathisers.
The deputy prime minister, who last week was assigned by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to join the defence and interior ministers to tackle the southern problem, did not reveal the source of these numbers.
Mr Chalerm said the government was not quite sure what kind of insurgents it was dealing with because the attacks appeared indiscriminate.
"They don't act like insurgents.
"They indiscriminately kill civilians and troops. They seem to be linked with crooked politicians who trade contraband goods, drugs and smuggled oil," he said.
He urged the insurgents to turn themselves in and pledged to deal with the southern insurgency using a mainly political approach, rather than a military one.
Mr Chalerm, who represented the prime minister at yesterday's meeting, also defended Ms Yingluck.
The premier has come under fire for not showing up to answer the opposition Democrat Party's questions and for not visiting the deep South.
The deputy prime minister said Ms Yingluck was merely in charge of policy administration.
Authorities on the ground were asking for better allocation of resources to get their job done, not a visit from the prime minister, he said.
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- Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa