Thailand said on Thursday it was holding peace talks with some Muslim insurgent groups in its violence-wracked south, in a policy reversal which follows a recent surge in militant attacks.
Informal talks are under way between the government agency in charge of the region -- the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center -- and several militant splinter groups, according to a deputy prime minister.
"Don't call it negotiations... but there are talks to achieve peace which is a crucial government policy," Yutthasak Sasiprapa, who is in charge of national security, told reporters.
"The government has assigned the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center responsibility for the talks as they are well aware who to talk to."
The talks are with splinter groups from the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) -- one of a web of insurgent organisations believed to be behind attacks, he said.
"We talk with newly set up groups of young people which separated from the RKK," Yutthasak said, adding that up to 9,000 insurgents overall were estimated to be operating in the violence-hit southern provinces.
In April Yutthasak ruled out peace talks with militants following the deadliest bomb attacks to rock the Muslim-dominated region in recent years.
A complex insurgency, without clearly stated aims, has plagued Thailand's far south near the border with Malaysia since 2004, claiming thousands of lives, both Buddhist and Muslim, with near-daily bomb or gun attacks.
The insurgents are not thought to be part of a global jihad movement but are instead rebelling against a long history of perceived discrimination against ethnic Malay Muslims by successive Thai governments.
Attacks have surged during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan which ends next week, turning a focus on the government's handling of the rumbling unrest.
Yutthasak warned of possible major militant attacks in southern cities as the Islamic holy month draws to an end.
"The militants have distorted (Islamic) teaching and believe that whoever mounts an attack in Ramadan will be rewarded and will be able to meet Allah," he said.