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Wed, December 27, 2006 : Last updated 19:51 pm (Thai local time)

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Secret military division deployed

Cabinet approves funds of Bt556m for 14,000-strong force to control protests

A secretive 14,000-man special operations force already deployed across the country with a mission to quell unrest was given funds of Bt556 million by the Cabinet yesterday.

"The Council for National Security asked to have its own special force to maintain peace and the rule of law in our country. The endorsement was in line with the interim constitution," government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalarp said.

The CNS asked the Cabinet to allocate Bt556 million from the central fund, he said.

The CNS is expected to attract more criticism for using the fund after it was attacked for supplementing its salaries and placing military men at major state enterprises.

The 13,625-strong force of the "Council for National Security's Special Operations Centre" were recruited from the armed forces and police, and are already stationed at undisclosed locations.

The military has been citing "undercurrents", or activities by supporters of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra, as a political threat. It fears mass demonstrations to oust the CNS, which seized power from Thaksin's regime on September 19.

The rapid deployment force began operating on December 1, and Yongyuth said it would be dissolved along with the CNS, tentatively on September 30 next year, which is the end of the fiscal year. The budget would cover 305 days of operations in total. The CNS has promised elections and a return to democracy by the end of 2007.

Prime Minister Surayud Chula-nont refused to answer why the Cabinet approved the funding of a project after it had already started, which is contrary to PM's Office directives. CNS chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin made an urgent proposal on December 19 for the money.

Martial law, imposed a day after the putsch, remains in place across Thailand despite the government saying at the end of November that it would be lifted pending His Majesty the King's endorsement.

Yongyuth said no Cabinet members questioned the use of the fund, which could be seen as awarding the forces extra allowances on top of their salaries. The funds would mostly go to pay for food, overtime, materials and supplies, vehicle maintenance and fuel, he said.

"The forces have to stand by at one place so they are compensated for overtime and some officials are paid for monitoring political situations," he said.

Expenses are also incurred for civic matters such as public relations, surveys and evaluations. Sonthi has assigned General Saprang Kalla-yanamit, assistant secretary-general of the CNS, as commander of the special operations centre.

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