Libyan-trained Muslim insurgents are operating in southern Thailand, where more than 1,000 people have died since early last year in almost daily violence, Thai officials said Thursday.Gen. Pallop Pinmanee, deputy director of the government's Internal Security Operations Command, said a group of 20 militants spent four years in Libyan camps and returned to Thailand to train hundreds of elite local fighters who have spearheaded a bloody separatist movement in the country's Muslim-dominated southern provinces.
Speculation has been rife over whether the insurgency is receiving direct outside support, but it has been generally acknowledged that some southern Muslims had earlier received military training abroad, including countries in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Pallop said in a telephone interview that the returnees had been trained in combat and bomb-making, and in turn instructed some 300 elite commandos as well as 3,000 regular fighters who have been deployed in the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. He said the 20 returned to Thailand three years ago.
He denied local media reports that 3,000 Thai Muslims had received training in Libya.
Defense Minister Thammarak Isaragura na Ayuthaya confirmed Pallop's remarks when contacted Thursday. Pallop accused security forces of mishandling the worsening situation in the south, noting that villages said to be under strong insurgent influence increased from 187 two years ago to 247 today, reports the AP. I.L.