Indonesia's Military Moves Back to Centre Stage
Also: Indonesian general cleared over abuse
Indonesia's Military Moves Back to Centre Stage
By Sian Powell
PARADE grounds and town squares across Indonesia will echo to the sound of marching boots and barked orders tomorrow in the nation's annual Independence Day demonstration of military strength.
The revving of engines and shouts of the sergeants will have extra resonance this year, set against the recent efforts of military leaders to put the armed forces back on the power map.
The military has always been central to Indonesia's sense of strength and independence, but there were changes after the fall of the Suharto military regime in 1998.
The armed forces lost their permanent seats in parliament, and the police were hived off from the army. The military was kept out of the democratic process and senior officers were forced to submit to human rights tribunals for the military-orchestrated violence in East Timor in 1999 and the massacre of Muslim protesters in Tanjung Priok in 1984.
But the small gains in demilitarising Indonesia's political process now look ephemeral.
"Whitewash" is the best human rights activists can say about the tribunals. which are widely seen as parodies of justice heavily influenced by the military. So far only one man has been jailed for the East Timor atrocities, and he is a civilian East Timorese.
Civil libertarians are also concerned about a controversial new bill being debated in parliament that would return a measure of political power to the armed forces.
University of Indonesia military expert Arbi Sanit says there is a new wave of pro-military feeling sweeping the parliament, the government and the judiciary.
"It's as though the political system in Indonesian has already relaxed its attitude toward militarism," he says.
"The judges, too, have freed everyone. In the parliament it's also like that - there is a tendency to support the bill."
The failure of justice, particularly in the East Timor tribunal, has been condemned by the US and New Zealand. Although the prosecutors have said they will appeal to the Supreme Court against four recent appellate court acquittals, on current form nothing is likely to change.
More than 1500 East Timorese were killed in the orchestrated violence before and after the independence ballot in 1999.
International outrage forced Indonesia to establish the tribunal to investigate and punish those responsible for the slaughter, but no military officer has yet been found guilty.
The Tanjung Priok tribunal last week acquitted Major-General Sriyanto Muntrasan, the chief of Indonesia's feared Kopassus special forces, who had been accused of encouraging his troops to fire on 3000 protesters in 1984, leaving dozens dead. The Jakarta military police chief at the time was also acquitted by the tribunal.
A retired major-general, Rudolf Butar Butar, the former North Jakarta military commander, was sentenced to 10 years for the same massacre, but he has already declared he will appeal and legal experts believe he has every chance of success.
Despite the anger over the tribunals, it is the new military bill that critics are most concerned about, saying it would entrench special interests and make the armed forces even less accountable.
Mr Sanit says the bill is completely unacceptable and would presage a return to Suharto's New Order.
"It's clear," he says - the Indonesian military is fighting for a territorial structure in which the military is central to government from the village level upwards. "It's back to the New Order. Then there's the section that stipulates serving military officers do not have to retire to take up civilian positions."
He says the bill would permit the military commander to launch a three-day long military operation without the president's approval.
Following consternation from some liberal parliamentarians and a number of newspaper articles criticising the legislation, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has indirectly claimed she was forced into pushing the bill forward before the current parliamentary session ends next month.
Anti-militarism still has some strength in Indonesia, with student protests against emerging militarism held sporadically across the nation, especially in Jakarta.
On this year's anniversary of the July 27, 1996, military raid on the headquarters of Ms Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party, protesters in central Jakarta warned of the increasing power of the military, and pointed to one political leader and former general who hopes to run the country soon - Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The candidate favoured to win the second and final round of the presidential election on September 20 was a career soldier for much of his adult life, and a New Order general who served as a commander in East Timor in the 1980s.
Mr Yudhoyono has refused to commit himself to any meaningful military reform, and rights activists say he has surrounded himself with a clique of former generals.
The lack of unity and strength in civilian politics has allowed the military to make its move, Mr Sanit says.
"If the civilian politicians were firm and united, and there were no differences of view about the main issues, then maybe the military would be more hesitant, like in the early days of reform."
The Age August 13, 2004
Indonesian general cleared over abuse
By Matthew Moore Indonesia Correspondent
Jakarta - Indonesian prosecutors have again failed in their attempt to convict soldiers accused of gross human rights abuses, with the head of the army's notorious Kopassus special forces yesterday cleared of all charges by a human rights tribunal.
Hundreds of Kopassus troops and supporters jamming the courtroom erupted into cheers as the head of the panel of five judges, Herman Hutapea, declared Major-General Sriyanto Muntrasan "legally and convincingly" not guilty over his role in a controversial massacre 20 years ago that left at least 23 people dead.
General Sriyanto hugged supporters and urged everyone "to all trust the panel of judges who have delivered such an objective, comprehensive and fair judgement". He was only a captain at the time of the Tanjung Priok massacre but his current position as head of Kopassus has ensured a huge focus on the case seen as another test of Indonesia's ability to successfully prosecute people over human rights abuses.
A separate tribunal hearing East Timor human rights cases last week overturned the convictions of three soldiers and a policeman previously found guilty. That decision left no members of the security forces with convictions for the bloodshed in East Timor that left 1600 dead at the time of its 1999 independence vote.
Despite Indonesia's efforts to prosecute human rights abusers, not one member of the security forces has spent a night in jail as a result of any verdict. As with his previous appearances in the court, General Sriyanto was accompanied yesterday by between 200 and 300 Kopassus soldiers wearing their trademark red berets, half a dozen generals and assorted members of pro- military groups and other supporters.
They included relatives and survivors of the massacre who have reached an agreement with the military, have been paid compensation, and say there is no point prosecuting anyone.
But others still push for the soldiers to be convicted despite the intimidating presence of Kopassus forces in court and death threats to stop them giving evidence.
Listening to a loudspeaker outside the court as the judges read the decision were 15 such survivors."Indonesia is cruel," said Aminatun, a woman in her 40s, who said she was kidnapped at the time of the massacre.
Her remark, made in answer to a question from a foreign journalist, saw a group of men immediately surround her.
"Why are you discrediting your country?" one shouted at her as another pushed her and threatened to punch her. More critics began to jostle her and she and her colleagues were physically forced out of the building while soldiers did nothing.
The decision opens the way for Australia to resume training Kopassus soldiers. Indonesia's army last year cancelled a planned trip when the Australian Government would not allow General Sriyanto to lead a group because of the human rights allegations against him.
But many Indonesians were unhappy with the result.
Muchtar Beni Biki, a relative of one of those killed, said he was "very disappointed with the judges because they didn't take the victims' side".
He could not understand why General Sriyanto had been acquitted when his superior officer at the time, General (retired) Butar Butar, was convicted 31/2 months ago.
"This is very strange. Why are there two different decisions, if the one not on the field was found guilty, how come the one on the field is acquitted?"
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