from Asia Times

<FONT color=#000000 size=3>Politicizing Indonesia's military</FONT>

By Fabio Scarpello

JAKARTA - Indonesia's renewed "war on terror" in the wake of the latest round of bombings on Bali could pave the way for renewed politicization of the country's military, analysts believe.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already called on the Indonesian Military (TNI) to be more active, and there are fears this could lead to possible abuse and halt the process of reform begun after the end of the Suharto era in 1998.

"In this country, we are still struggling to depoliticize the TNI and this decision will bring it back into the political arena," said Salim Said, a political scientist from the Indonesia Institute of Science (LIPI).

Yudhoyono's announcement came during the TNI's 60th anniversary celebrations on October 4, and only three days after the latest bombing on the island resort of Bali , which left 23 dead, 140 injured and 22 still missing.

The attack was the latest in a series in Indonesia, bloodied regularly since 2000 by the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is fighting to bring most of Southeast Asia under a single Islamic state and has links with Osama bin Laden's international al-Qaeda network.

The burden of fighting terrorism in Indonesia has fallen on the shoulders of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the National Police, which lack funds, expertise and coordination.

Although dozens of JI's operatives have been arrested, the police and BIN have been unable to prevent the attacks or capture all of those believed to be behind the bombings. This failure prompted Yudhoyono to call on the feared and only partly accountable, TNI, which still stands accused of widespread human-rights abuse throughout the archipelago.

The call for help was enthusiastically received by the TNI's chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, who said he would take the necessary measures to crack down on terrorists by reactivating the military's "territorial function". The territorial function means deployment of forces akin to that of an occupying army. Soldiers are placed in every corner of the country, from the main cities down to the smallest villages. This system was used by the former dictator, Suharto, as an effective tool to monitor people's movements and crush dissent.

"The government has given us a clear order to participate in the war against terrorism," he told the media after Yudhoyono's announcement. "First, we will raise public awareness about the condition of local neighborhoods. Second, we will activate the territorial command down to the village level, and third, of course, we will share intelligence information with other institutions, especially the police."

Throughout the new order regime, as Suharto's 33 years in power was dubbed, the territorial function gave rise to widespread excess of power and human-rights abuse. It also brought generals into close contact with local politicians and businessmen, paving the way for collusion and interference in every facet of the country's life.

It was largely dismantled following the fall of Suharto, when the student-led "Reformasi" movement forced the introduction of reforms aimed at limiting the power and influence of the TNI in Indonesian political life.

Though Sutarto now insists the territorial function will not be abused, its revival has sent shivers down the spines of most analysts.

"People have not forgotten the abuse suffered at the hands of the TNI during the new order regime," Hilman Latief, a lecturer at Yogyakarta Muhammadiyah University department of Islamic Studies, told IPS. "They are still traumatized and the government has to be very careful about involving generals in the fight against terror."

Agus Widjojo, a commentator on military issues who is renowned for his pro-reform stance, said any involvement of the TNI should be based on the constitution and the principle of democracy.

"The constitution gives the TNI a role in the national defense, but it can also be called upon by the president to help with domestic problems," he said. "However, it must respect the principle of democracy."

According to Yudhoyono, the law allowing for the drafting of the TNI is Defense Law number 34/2004, passed in September 2004. This has been hotly contested by some analysts who have a different reading of the same law.

J Kristiadi, an expert on security matters at the Jakarta Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the president's move is a violation of the law, which stipulates that TNI's territorial function must be eliminated by 2009.

"Reviving the territorial command is against the law," he told The Jakarta Post newspaper, adding that the military should only be involved in security matters if the police ask for its help.

Andi Widjayanto, a military analyst from the University of Indonesia, acknowledges that Article 11 of the law did not, in so many words, prohibit the reinstatement of the territorial function, but he said Yudhoyono's move was against the "spirit" of the law, which was written to push TNI internal reforms.

In any case, according to Widjojo, if brought back, the territorial function has to be limited with safeguards and clear limits in time and duties.

"It has to be clear that it is a temporary measure and what the TNI can and cannot do," he said. "Both have to be stipulated by the political authority."

(Inter Press Service)
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