Subject: AP: Indonesian Generals are Restless - Military Making a Comeback

Associated Press January 21, 2001

Indonesian Military Making a Comeback


JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - The generals are restless.

With civilian leaders mired in political infighting and unable to tackle Indonesia's mounting crises, the military - on the defensive since the ouster of the dictatorship it backed for 32 years - is reasserting itself in politics.

With support from lawmakers, army commanders have blocked President Abdurrahman Wahid, the country's first elected president in 45 years, from implementing democratic reforms, including asserting civilian supremacy over the armed forces.

Now, after a string of deadly bombings on Christmas Eve, the military is speculated to be trying to destabilize the government by inciting Muslim-Christian clashes.

During his decades in power, President Suharto, himself a five-star army general, used the army to crush any opposition. In return, the officers got a free hand to build a commercial empire.

But after Suharto was toppled in 1999 by pro-democracy protests, the army was humiliated by revelations of its human rights abuses. Its role in the destruction that year of East Timor, after the province's people voted for independence, further undermined its standing.

Wahid seized the opportunity to appoint a civilian as defense minister. He also angered traditionalists by reducing the army's pre-eminence and promoting navy and air force officers to posts previously reserved for army generals.

He sacked the powerful security minister, Gen. Wiranto, Suharto's old military chief, on suspicion of involvement in destroying East Timor, and had the national police removed from the army chain of command.

But 14 months into his term, 60-year-old Wahid is struggling to hold power.

His government is bogged down in political scandals and critics call him indecisive and erratic. He has failed to revive Indonesia's moribund economy or to stem bloody separatist uprisings. He is at odds with Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

``It turns out that Wahid's reforms were an illusion,'' said Julia Suryakusuma, an Indonesian political analyst. ``All they managed to do was to melt the tip of the iceberg, but the rest of it has remained unaffected.''

In this climate of uncertainty, the generals have begun to claw their way back to the political forefront through a loose alliance of anti-reform groups. But for now, experts on the military say, many officers are undecided, and air force and navy commanders increasingly are resisting the army's assertiveness.

``As usual, the majority are people in the middle, the opportunists,'' says Salim Said, a political analyst close to the military

According to foreign diplomats in Jakarta, the anti-reform groups include sections of Megawati's political party, Suharto's old allies, and some Muslim groups. Megawati herself has been cutting a more martial figure by turning up at military functions wearing custom-tailored military garb.

The army easily defeated efforts last August to remove it from Indonesia's 450-member legislature, where it retains 38 seats. Meanwhile, the long-awaited prosecution of Wiranto and other generals accused of human rights abuses has all but ground to a halt.

According to a senior military intelligence officer who declined to be identified, the army command is split three ways - Suharto loyalists, supporters of Wahid, and a small faction led by reformist Lt. Gen. Agus Wirahadikusuma.

Disturbingly for many Indonesians, ``rogue elements'' of the military are suspected of involvement in the Christmas bombings. Wahid says the attacks, which killed 18 people, are part of plot to overthrow the government by inciting sectarian conflict between Indonesia's Muslim majority and Christian minority.

Although the investigation has yielded no proof, the media have said only the military could pull off so many bombings simultaneously.

Former Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, government officials and even military commanders such as the air force chief-of-staff, Air Marshall Hanafie Asnan, also have speculated about military involvement.

Western journalists saw an army unit fighting on the Muslim side last July during an attack on a Christian neighborhood in Ambon, capital of Maluku province, and ``rogue elements'' were accused of being behind the Sept. 6 killings of three U.N. aid workers in West Timor.

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