In one of the most deadly attacks in Thailand's long-running insurgency, scores of heavily-armed gunmen stormed a southern army base on Wednesday, authorities said, leaving 16 militants dead.
In the unusually brazen early-morning assault, 100 militants, dressed in army fatigues and armed with AK47 and M16 assault rifles, attacked the unit in Narathiwat province, unit commander Captain Somkiat Pholprayoon said.
"Sixteen militants were confirmed dead after the attack," he told reporters at the scene, adding that the military and police were in "hot pursuit" of the 60 to 70 militants who fled the base after the attack.
The government expressed sorrow over the deaths, one of the highest single death tolls in some eight years of violence in Thailand's deep south, but praised the military operation, saying the army had had no choice.
"The government has no policy of using violence to deal with southern unrest but in this incident [militants] attacked the military base," Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung told reporters in Bangkok.
A shadowy insurgency has been fighting for greater autonomy for the country's southernmost provinces since 2004, with shootings and bombings occurring on a near-daily basis.
More than 5,500 people have been killed, both Buddhist and Muslim, in the bloody conflict. AFP