Subject: JP/Aboeprijadi Santoso: Kopassus and The Legend of ‘Mpu Gandring’

also Asia Security Initiative [Blog]: The Kopassus Kerfuffle

via Joyo News

The Jakarta Post

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kopassus and the legend of ‘Mpu Gandring

Aboeprijadi Santoso, Jakarta

Men and weapons are sometimes seen as a pair of symbolic importance in maintaining the greatness of the state. In Javanese mythology, one such weapon was named after the great master artisan (Mpu) who created it: Mpu Gandring. But once the master was illegitimately disowned from his creation, the weapon — the Mpu Gandring kris — turned into a curse that shaped a bloody discourse in which its users lost their divine blessing (wahyu).

Modern reality is complex. However, the imagery (rather than the reality) and the public discourse (rather than the history) about Indonesia’s elite Army Special Forces (Kopassus), as a killing machine, has shown parallels with the bloody Mpu Gandring legend.

The American journalist Allan Nairn recently accused the Kopassus of killing unarmed civilians. Such allegations are not new, except that they now refer to what he claims to be “a program of assassinations” of former rebels, who led the Aceh Party in the run up to the general elections last year.

While the details are not fully known, the tragic events could hardly be surprising to Aceh observers and local journalists.

At least 29 mysterious assaults and killings (the party claimed 55 incidents) occurred in Aceh early last year when this writer was there to cover the elections, and now Nairn has attempted to substantiate the story of just two of them.

It is a fact that Army members continue to harbor a deep distrust toward former GAM (Free Aceh Movement) rebels, including even the regional commander most respected by the ex-GAMs, in particular since the latter won the 2006 gubernatorial election.

However, never since the Helsinki peace (2005) have conditions been so bad, since early last year when the regional command was led by a Kopassus general who was dismissed shortly afterwards.

Such was the tense atmosphere then that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the visiting Helsinki architect Martti Ahtisaari (March 2009) expressed serious concerns.

A bomb was put under the car and various dirty tricks were played out to victimize or incriminate ex-GAM leaders, but none of the incidents have been resolved despite the fact that three of the perpetrators have been brought to Jakarta. The local police was unable to handle the cases and witnesses chose to remain silent — both apparently out fear of reprisal.

The Jakarta media and commentators have alas stopped short of considering Aceh sources, while the military denial (“there is no Kopassus there”) have missed the point. For, at issue is not a formal Kopassus assignment (which was probably none since this would explicitly violate the Helsinki pact), but covert operations involving individual Kopassus members.

Neither, unfortunately, has the military been able to spell out the reform of the Kopassus, which they claim to have performed during the last 12 years.

Nairn’s investigation was intended to hit Indonesia’s bid to lift the US ban on military training that President Barack Obama reportedly intended to review. Recalling the Aceh incidents is important for us, first because they highlight the urgency of unresolved human rights cases here; second, they refresh the public memory by reinforcing the existing Kopassus’ imagery in Aceh and elsewhere.

Many of the atrocities in the former conflict areas, the killings, poisoning and missing activists elsewhere in Indonesia have been linked to the Kopassus or its individual members. None of these has been brought to justice or satisfactorily resolved. Impunity thus runs as a thread from the 1965-66 tragedy, to troubles in East Timor, Aceh and Papua.

This series of repeated state violence — many cases of which have been well documented for example, see the C.A.V.R. (Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation) report on East Timor (2004) have created the imagery of what Kopassus “did” among the people affected.

Ask any local around the former Rumah Geudong in Pidie, Aceh, or the surviving families in Kraras, near Viqueque, East Timor. They will tell you what they know about the Kopassus (or its predecessors, the RPKAD).

To be fair, the killing-machine image should include some infamous battalions of the Army’s Strategic Reserves Command or Kostrad (in the case of East Timor) and the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) in Aceh. The point here, however, is that this popular image was shaped by recent history of brutality as interpreted in the local discourse and blamed on the Kopassus.

Now legend has it that the Mpu Gandring kris precipitated a series of assassinations, each of which led to power usurpation. A villager named Ken Arok betrayed and killed the great master Gandring and used the unfinished kris to kill the King in order to claim the throne and the divine blessing. The kris, however, took its own course and later disappeared. Only then did the killings stop and could the kingdom celebrate its greatness.

This discourse shows that once you use the weapon for a purpose without the consent of its great master-creator you will lose your legitimacy: A powerful moral message.

Army members continue to harbor a deep distrust toward former GAM rebels since the latter won the 2006 gubernatorial election.

The writer is a journalist.


Asia Security Initiative [Blog]

The MacArthur Foundation

March 29, 2010

The Kopassus Kerfuffle

Posted by Catharin Dalpino on March 29, 2010. Filed under Indonesia.

If there is a silver lining for US-Indonesian relations in President Obama’s latest trip postponement, it might be that the two countries have more time to consider if and how Kopassus, the Indonesian Army’s special forces unit, fits into the bilateral security relationship. Kopassus was formed in 1952 to combat insurgencies in Java and has been integral to the Indonesian government’s response to internal conflict in provinces such as Aceh and Papua, and the former province of East Timor. Many Kopassus operations have been secret, and the unit has periodically drawn criticism for human rights abuses from the international community as well as Indonesian watch dog groups.

Kopassus activities in East Timor in the 1990’s drew particular attention from the United States and the unit was sanctioned under the 1997 Leahy Law, which prohibits foreign military units from participating in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program or receiving assistance for weapons purchases if unit members have committed human rights abuses for which they have not been brought to account. The logic of sanctioning the entire unit lies in encouraging the foreign government to remove human rights offenders from the leadership structure. The Leahy Law applies to two appropriations bills, one for Foreign Operations and the other for Defense. The Defense Appropriations side of the law has a waiver mechanism, but the Foreign Operations side does not.

Under the Leahy Law and other Congressional actions, the US-Indonesian military-to-military relationship was largely dismantled for the better part of a decade. In 2005 a cautious new start was made with cooperation on counter-terrorism, and roughly $20 million is now appropriated for the TNI, much of it for military reform. However, Kopassus continues to be excluded under the Leahy Law.

In early March, Kopassus suddenly emerged as an issue in negotiation of the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The momentum for this appeared to originate in Jakarta. The Indonesian press reported on government attempts to lobby the Obama administration to remove the prohibition as part of the agenda for the Obama visit. In mid-March a delegation from Kopassus visited Washington, led by the unit commander, Major General Lodewijk Paulus. Ann Marie Murphy, Seton Hall professor and author of a forthcoming book on the impact of democratization on Indonesia’s foreign policy, believes that Jakarta views training for Kopassus as a litmus test for the new US-Indonesia relationship. “They wonder how the Comprehensive Partnership can be comprehensive without full military-to-military relations,” she said.

Administration officials downplayed Indonesian press accounts that predicted Obama would announce the restoration of IMET assistance to Kopassus when he visited Jakarta but did not dismiss the possibility in principle. Jeffrey Bader, National Security Council Senior Director for Asia, acknowledged past human rights violations by Kopassus but said that the administration “hopes to be able, at some point, to move past and resolve those concerns.”

Bader’s comments, although cautious, are consonant with a new international view of Kopassus. The unit has attempted to reinvent itself in the post-Suharto era. Its mandate has expanded beyond internal security and extends to protecting Indonesian government facilities broad, such as the Indonesian embassy in Papua New Guinea. Kopassus troops have served in United Nations peace-keeping missions in Sierra Leone, Sudan, Georgia and Lebanon. Australia has restored training to Kopassus, and the UK appears to be on the verge of doing so as well. Kopassus has regular contact with other Southeast Asian military units.

But debate within the US policy community over the human rights issues with Kopassus is still unresolved. Opponents of restoring assistance argue that Kopassus has not sufficiently accounted for human rights abuse in East Timor. Moreover, they believe that the unit continues to commit abuses and report recent incidents in Papua and Aceh, the latter during the 2009 elections. Proponents of resuming training argue osmosis, that closer contact with the United States will strengthen awareness of human rights in Kopassus. They also maintain that sanctioning the entire unit, as the law requires, punishes officers who have not committed abuses and prevents younger generation officers from receiving training because of the actions of more senior officers.

These issues are too complicated to resolve overnight, and they make the Kopassus issue a very poor “deliverable” for a Presidential visit to Indonesia. Attempts to circumvent the vetting process under the Leahy Law may achieve a short-term political objective but they would most likely stir up enough opposition among US and Indonesian human rights groups to prolong conflict over this issue for some time to come. Contrary to impressions in some Indonesian media accounts, the Leahy Law was not promulgated specifically for Indonesia. It applies globally, and other countries ­ Columbia in particular ­ have received greater scrutiny under the law than Indonesia. As the two countries look ahead to Obama’s visit to Indonesia in June, they should take the Kopassus negotiations offline and let the issue itself determine the timeline for resolution.


About This Blog

The Asia Security Initiative blog hosts a discussion of current events and security challenges in the Asia-Pacific, drawing from the policy research of the Asia Security Initiative network. Anchored by six expert bloggers, the blog also includes contributions from leading Asia Security Initiative-supported experts.

The opinions expressed on this site are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the MacArthur Foundation. Bloggers have agreed to terms of use (PDF). The Foundation’s privacy policy applies to the entire Asia Security Initiative site.

Back April Menu  
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu