Security forces who raided an orchard yesterday hoping to catch an insurgent leader turned up just two rifles, after their suspect was thought to have made a last-minute escape.
Two rifles linked to insurgent attacks on security forces were seized during the raid in Yala's Muang district.
But militant leader Usman Korkor, alias Jeh Kusman, who was thought to have taken shelter at the orchard, escaped before the team could arrive.
A combined force of 60 police and military personnel stormed the property, which belongs to resident Leesa Samae, 60, about 5am yesterday.
They said they found an AK-47 assault rifle, an HK rifle, four magazines and rounds of ammunition hidden in a bush.
Just over seven litres of urea fertiliser, which can be used to manufacture explosives, was also discovered, officials said.
Investigators said the AK rifle once belonged to village defence volunteer Supat Intharakanok, who was murdered at a checkpoint in Yala's Muang district on Feb 5 last year.
The HK rifle, stolen from a forestry official in June 2002, was also found to have been used in an attack on military rangers in tambon Ta Sae in 2010.
Four local teenagers were detained during the raid. Security officials believe they may be linked to the seized weapons.
A security source said Mr Kusman is thought to have led members of the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) militant group to the Muang area to stir up unrest. It is not known how long he took shelter at the orchard. Mr Kusman and six or seven RKK members are believed to have fled moments before the raid.
Mr Kusman has outstanding arrest warrants related to several cases, including an attack on officers providing security for monks in Yala's Muang district, bomb attacks against authorities and the torching of surveillance cameras.
Meanwhile, a source at the 4th Region Forward Command of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) yesterday said paramilitary rangers would play a larger role in handling the insurgency.
The rangers will be picked mainly from residents of the three southernmost provinces as they are familiar with the local culture, the source said.
The decision was made after Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat travelled to the region on Jan 22 to meet security officials in charge of dealing with the insurgency. About 150 additional investigators and 96 officers from the Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit will also be deployed to the region, the source added.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra chaired an Isoc meeting at Government House yesterday to analyse the agency's performance last year. Speaking after the meeting, Isoc spokesman Ditthaporn Sasisamit said the premier told the agency to work more closely with residents to encourage them to pass on information about insurgent movements.
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Writer: Muhammad Ayub Pathan, Assawin Pakkawan & Patsara Jikkham