Photo tells thousand words on military-Soeharto ties

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A photograph of a top military officer bowing and shaking hands with murder convict and graft suspect Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, shows the military remains loyal to the Soeharto family, critics say.

They say the photo, taken at a recent shooting competition hosted by the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) -- where Tommy was a participant -- raises concerns that Kopassus is supporting the youngest son of former president Soeharto.

The officer photographed, special Forces commander Maj. Gen. Rasyid Qurnuen Aquari, said his actions were a mere gesture of politeness and asserted that Kopassus remained detached from politics.

Qurnuen is a former member of the presidential guard, which secured Soeharto's family during his presidency.

Soeharto's third son, Bambang Trihatmodjo, also took part in the shooting competition.

Military critic and director of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Usman Hamid, said Wednesday the photo confirms the military's enduring loyalty to Soeharto and his family, nine years after his resignation.

"Even the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) agrees that Soeharto's family is an untouchable hive of politics. The gesture in the photo shows the subordination of a military officer to a member of Soeharto's family."

He said it was understandable for the U.S. and others to question the impartiality of the military when it came to Soeharto, his family members and close acquaintances.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Christopher R. Hill was quoted by Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono on Tuesday as mentioning that some civil organizations in the U.S. accused the Indonesian Military of partiality.

"Soeharto's family still has a great amount of influence over the military, thus it is understandable that reform is happening at a snail's pace and past cases of human rights abuses are being left on the shelf," Usman said.

He said Tommy was a symbol of the much-criticized New Order regime and a test of the new administration's commitment to law enforcement.

Tommy served a jail sentence for ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge and is currently being investigated by the Attorney General's Office on multiple graft allegations.

Military analyst Ikrar Nusabakti from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said a strong Javanese culture ran deep within the military, so a bowing gesture -- as depicted in the photo -- could simply be a social grace.

However, he said it could also be taken as a symbol of a military still in thrall to the Soehartos.

"(Former Indonesian Military chief) Gen. (ret) Wiranto made it clear that the military would continue to protect the Soeharto family, even when Soeharto stepped down as president."

Ikrar said Kopassus was a staunch guardian of the Soeharto family, given that it was once led by Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subiyanto, Soeharto's son-in-law.
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