Subject: SMH Editorial: In Indonesia, Old Soldiers Never Die

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Sydney Morning Herald

August 4, 2003


In Indonesia, old soldiers never die

When Paul Keating was prime minister, Australia and Indonesia signed an "agreement on maintaining security", a pact strong on symbolism but light on substance. Australia also went out of its way to court the Indonesian Army's notorious Kopassus special forces unit, acting on the premise that Kopassus provided a disproportionate number of Indonesia's leading generals and that, under President Soeharto, generals had a disproportionate influence in Indonesian society. As it happened, the agreement on maintaining security lasted less than four years; Jakarta, stung by Australia's military intervention in East Timor, abrogated the agreement in 1999. But joint exercises with Kopassus, on hold since Timor, look set to resume. That will trouble many Australians, even if the focus is on counter-terrorism. But it is not the only cause for concern.

Old soldiers never die. Nor, in Indonesia, do they simply fade away. Today, many of the officers prominent in Kopassus when Mr Keating was supping with Soeharto have reappeared in civilian guise - not unlike those Communist Party apparatchiks in Russia and Eastern Europe who, having made life hell for the democracy movement, went on to reinvent themselves as democrats as soon as they sniffed the winds of political change.

Some retired generals are making their presence felt in Golkar, the political grouping that was used by Soeharto to give his army-backed regime a semblance of legitimacy. Golkar is today the second strongest political force in Indonesia, after the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) of President Megawati Soekarnoputri. A Golkar candidate could, at a pinch, wrest the presidency from Megawati next year, or become her vice-president.

Nine men, including three retired generals, have registered as presidential contenders under the Golkar banner. One is Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, a former Kopassus commander (and former son-in-law of Soeharto), who was cashiered after he admitted kidnapping nine political activists. Another is Lieutenant-General Agum Gumelar, who also led Kopassus during its high summer of repression. The third is General Wiranto, who, while not a Kopassus man, led the army at the time of the killing and arson in East Timor.

Three other retired generals, all with Kopassus backgrounds, have links to Megawati and her party, although none is standing for president. One, Lieutenant-General Theo Syafei, is a key presidential adviser currently defending himself against vote-buying charges. Another is the national intelligence chief, Lieutenant General A.M. Hendropriyono, who, in 1989, earned the epithet "the butcher of Lampung" when troops slaughtered at least 100 Muslim villagers in southern Sumatra. Yet another is the Governor of Jakarta, General Sutiyoso. In the clandestine Kopassus war against Portuguese East Timor, he became the first Indonesian to seize a town outside his nation's boundaries.

Much has changed in Indonesia since Paul Keating went out of his way to get close to Soeharto. Much remains unchanged. That so many army officers are continuing to thrive in what is supposed to be a new and democratic Indonesia is dismaying. Australia will have to get used to it as just one of many unusual developments in its large and still restive neighbour.

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