The move follows this week's surrender in Narathiwat of 93 insurgent suspects, led by Waeali Copter Waji, alias Jeh Ali, a suspect in the Jan 4, 2004 arms heist at the 4th Development Battalion in Cho Airong district of Narathiwat.
According to army sources, 4th Army commander Lt Gen Udomchai Thamsarorach has dispatched officers to negotiate with Sapaeing Basor and Masae Useng, leaders of the BRN Coordinate separatist group.
The officers accompanied several religious and community leaders for the secret talks. Both separatists leaders are based overseas. Mr Sapaeing hopes to be prime minister of a Pattani state and Mr Masae its defence minister or army chief in the event their goal of independence is ever achieved.
A bounty on Mr Sapaeing has been set at 10 million baht with one of 3 million baht for Mr Masae.
The negotiations cover their demands relating to their possible prosecution in Thailand. The separatists are also waiting to see how the authorities will deal with the 93 former militants, the sources said.
If negotiations are successful, around 10-15 members of the BRN Coordinate could defect, they added.
Deputy Prime Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha went to Pattani province yesterday to help speed up efforts to encourage more separatist suspects to defect.
Gen Yutthasak said he wanted the 4th Army and the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre to present recent defectors to the secretary-general of the World Muslim League Abdullah Al-Turky who arrives in Thailand today and who will visit the far South on Monday to prove that the government is pursuing peaceful solutions to the problems in the troubled region and ensuring human rights are protected.
Gen Yutthasak said the defectors who have turned themselves in were "genuine" and they were released to convince more to surrender.
Gen Prayuth said the government has assured separatists and those who were lured or forced to join separatist movements that they will be treated fairly if they surrender.
He said they could have punishments commuted or simply undergo some kind of training for six months or a year before returning to society.