Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas yesterday said counter-insurgency efforts in the South were failing because security forces were too defensive and vowed to switch to more hard-line tactics to keep militants at bay.
"The reconciliation signals we have been sending out were ill-received. We have made little progress because we stuck with defensive tactics," he said.
"We need to play it the hard way. From now on, we will seek access to the grassroots and strengthen local communities," said Gen Boonrawd.
His comments came after his visit to Pattani on Friday to offer moral support to security forces and discuss ongoing operation with the Internal Security Operations Command and the civilian-military-police task force.
He said his first priority was to crack down on drugs.
"The alarming spread of narcotics in the deep South contributes greatly to the violence. The separatists trick the youths into using drugs and the addicts are then sent out to cause trouble," Gen Boonrawd said.
In Narathiwat, security forces yesterday rounded up a suspect believed to have escaped from Friday's clash between militants and army rangers on Jao Ta We mountain, which left eight militants dead.
Women and children banded together to prevent the arrest of Dueramae Mudoh-asae, 30, from Ban Isadia village in Cho Airong district.
But they gave way after a village headman promised the suspect would be taken for interrogation only.
An ongoing manhunt searching for rebels continued yesterday after rangers on Friday tracked 20 heavily-armed men up the mountain and found them engaged in weapons training. No rangers were hurt in the battle.
Relatives of the dead militants turned up at Narathiwat Ratchanakarin Hospital yesterday to collect their bodies.
Rundi Kumpulan Kecil (RKK), an armed insurgent group, yesterday denied any involvement in Friday's battle. They said the rangers ran into illegal loggers, not insurgents.
The RKK also blamed authorities for excessive use of force.
A rubber tapper was shot dead in Yala's Raman district yesterday.
The body of Wilas Panamae, 43, was found peppered with bullets on a road to a plantation, with his motorcycle nearby.
In Narathiwat's Si Sakhon district, two university students were shot dead as they were riding a motorcycle to Rajabhat University in Yala, police said.
Witnesses said two men had ridden a motorbike after them and gunned them down.
In Pattani's Khok Pho district, doctors at the hospital at Ingkayuthboriharn military camp were fighting to save a seriously injured man. A ranger found Dueronueng Golae, 53, covered in blood on Pattani-Khok Pho road with two bullet wounds in the chest.
On Maka Bucha Day yesterday, the turnout at temples for morning alms-giving was light throughout Yala. All temples in the province were tightly guarded by military personnel