Bangkok: At least 18 people were injured on Friday when armed rebels opened fire and hurled grenades and petrol bombs in Thailand's war-ravaged Muslim-majority Yaha district.

The attack by the heavily-armed assailants, who were estimated to be around 30 in numbers, occurred at a village outpost in Yala province, leaving six village security volunteers severely injured.

The attackers threw Molotov cocktails onto the station's roof, setting it ablaze.

Some of the volunteers retaliated by opening fire while others tried to combat the blazes.

Police said both sides exchanged gunfire for more than half an hour. Several volunteers sustained injuries and ran out of the fire-gutted outpost.

A total of eighteen defence volunteers were hurt in the attack. Some attackers entered the fort and stole weapons, including four shotguns, one assault rifle and two pistols.

Since 2004, more than 6,400 people have been killed with majority of them being Buddhist and Muslim civilians. They were targeted for their perceived support for the Thai state.

Rebels have said they want a level of autonomy for the region which borders Muslim majority Malaysia. Thousands of soldiers, police and paramilitaries patrol the provinces of the south.

Thailand's ruling Junta said that it has made initial contacts with rebel leaders ahead of formal talks as it wants peace.