'Queen's Musketeers' rule the roost - for now

'Queen's Musketeers' rule the roost - for now
General Anupong Paochinda leads the Pre-Cadet Class 10 clique, seen as pro-Thaksin. Without his assistance, say analysts, Gen Sonthi would not have been able to neutralise the clique’s influence. Gen Anupong is commander of the First army in the Bangkok region.

MALAYSIA - With the appointment of two retired generals to the junta's six- member advisory team yesterday, Thailand is in effect being run by an elite military clique with absolute loyalty to the King and Queen.

What the two men - former army chief Anupong Paochinda and ex-supreme commander Prawit Wongsuwan - have in common with junta supremo Prayuth Chan-ocha is that they belong to the Burapha Phayak or "Eastern Tigers" faction of the army.

General Prawit is said to be the "big brother" of this faction, which traces its roots to the 21st Infantry Regiment or Queen's Guard.

"It is a clique within a regiment," said political science professor Panitan Wattanayagorn of Chulalongkorn University. "Their bonding is very strong."

In an article in 2009, when General Anupong was army chief and retired general Prawit was defence minister, Professor Paul Chambers, an authority on the Thai military, noted: "Their control over the military reflects the continuing dominance of former Queen's Guard officers and, by implication, Prem (Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council)."

In Thailand, what happens on the streets is often just the tip of an iceberg which is veined with special interest and power networks. The Burapha Phayak is one of the strongest factions in a military which has always seen intervention in government as part of its menu of options - and swears loyalty not to the government of the day but to the King.

Generals Prawit and Anupong were instrumental in the 2006 coup that ousted then premier Thaksin Shinawatra for various reasons including corruption and disrespect for the monarchy.

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