Subject: CSM: Terrifying Indonesian Army Unit Tries To Remake Its Image

also: The Kopassus-Militia Alliance (TAPOL)

The Christian Science Monitor [US] Monday, November 20, 2000

Indonesia confronts unruly past

Instead of disbanding, a rogue Army unit is trying to remake its image.

By Dan Murphy Special to The Christian Science Monitor


When a rash of explosions rocks Jakarta, they are the immediate suspects. When mysterious "ninja" killers execute dozens of Muslim scholars in East Java, senior politicians whisper their names. And when aid workers are killed in West Timor, United Nations officials point their way.

Every authoritarian regime seems to have them, a cross between Praetorian Guards and playground bullies. The Shah of pre-revolutionary Iran had his Savak. Baby Doc Duvalier relied on the Tonton Macoutes in Haiti.

In Indonesia's case, "they" are the Special Forces Command, known as Kopassus, a 6,000-strong unit that has forged a reputation as the toughest and most terrifying within a military known for its brutality.

Though it's virtually impossible for the unit to be guilty of all that the average Indonesian believes, Kopassus remains Indonesia's largest collective suspect for good reason. The Command's terror tactics it employed against insurgents in East Timor and Aceh are legendary.

When Indonesia began moving toward democracy at the end of Suharto's 32-year reign, many assumed the unit's position would fade. That view was bolstered when the reformist President Abdurrahman Wahid promised to punish rights abusers and push the military out of politics.

Instead, Kopassus has quietly begun to rehabilitate its reputation. While debate rages over whether soldiers should be tried for human rights abuses, the unit is winning back authority and respect.

"Their method was terror, and it was being employed in the service of Suharto," says Munir, a lawyer who runs the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence. "But efforts to find justice are running up against the tradition of military impunity."

The apparent success of Kopassus in putting its dark past behind it is a symbol of how little has changed within the Indonesian armed forces - and a measure of the challenges ahead.

It's a problem that plagues countries trying to make the transition from authoritarianism to democracy - and one that foreign powers like the US helped create. Indonesia's status as an anti-Communist bulwark during the cold war led to US training and support of the military, particularly Kopassus. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the US taught its soldiers intelligence gathering and counterinsurgency skills.

But the US and other Western powers strategically averted their eyes when those lessons were put to sometimes brutal effect at home. Like other parts of the relationship, Indonesia-US military ties have been pared down to almost nothing following the calculated brutality of Indonesia's retreat from East Timor in 1999.

Mugiyanto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, understands the danger first hand. In March 1998, he was an unknown democracy activist. Then he was picked up by Kopassus, taken blindfolded to an interrogation center, and strapped to a table. Over two days, he was beaten and given electric shocks while being interrogated about his political beliefs and the whereabouts of his friends.

After Suharto's fall, 11 Kopassus operatives were found guilty of kidnapping and torturing Mugiyanto and eight other activists - and then sentenced to 22 months in jail. Their commanding officer, Prabowo Subianto, a son-in-law of Suharto's who admitted he ordered the abductions, was honorably discharged. He's now brokering oil-for-food deals in Iraq on behalf of Minister of Industry and Trade Luhut Pandjaitan - himself a former Kopassus officer. "The forces of democracy still have a hard fight ahead of us,'' says Mugiyanto.

Mugiyanto was one of the lucky ones. Human rights activists say the unit helped kidnap and kill 15 democracy activists in Suharto's final days. Munir believes that 900 more - mostly East Timorese and Acehnese independence activists - disappeared into Kopassus interrogation centers never to be seen again, "But the law makes it very difficult to prosecute unless we can produce a body."

Kopassus, for its part, doesn't dispute its past, but insists that it is gearing up for Indonesia's reformasi era by focusing on external defense rather than internal control. "What's the point in denying the past? There are plenty of open secrets now," says Major Herindra, a 13-year Kopassus veteran who now serves as the unit's public-information officer. "We're putting more emphasis on human rights training now. We're not gathering intelligence on our own citizens anymore."

Not only did Kopassus spy on civilians, but it also infiltrated other branches of the military. It operated as a sort of "army within the Army" that could short-circuit the chain of command and set up so-called "black operations" in places like East Timor.

With President Wahid complaining that elements of the armed forces are trying to foment instability to create an authoritarian backlash, Kopassus operatives are seen by the average citizen as the natural perpetrators.

Over the past six months, the capital has been rocked by mysterious bomb blasts - the most recent being last week. From the day the blasts began, suspicion fell on Kopassus, which grew when the police picked up a Kopassus private in connection with the deadly bombing of the Jakarta Stock Exchange in September. But Herindra says the soldier had deserted his unit and was "acting alone."

Indonesia's military is chronically underfunded and soldiers traditionally take outside work to make ends meet. Military analysts say in that context, the unit's explanation could make sense. "Anyone with money could have paid for that," says one diplomat.

The best chance for accountability rests with the promised prosecution of senior officers for crimes against humanity in East Timor. When the former Indonesian province voted for independence in August 1999, pro-Jakarta militias, created and trained by Kopassus, went on a well-calculated rampage, killing dozens and driving 250,000 people from their homes.

Attorney General Marzuki Darusman says 22 officers implicated in abuses in East Timor will go on trial in January. Making that possible is a new human rights law, passed by parliament in early November and now awaiting only Wahid's signature.

TAPOL Bulletin 154/5 - November 1999


The arrest of ten Kopassus soldiers by INTERFET forces is proof of the overwhelming involvement of this elite force in the terror and violence in East Timor during the past two decades. The two weeks of violence that ravaged East Timor after the results of the referendum were announced was the responsibility of Kopassus and their proxies, the militia gangs.

Much has been written about the Kopassus/militia alliance and its role as a killing machine but nobody, perhaps not even the armed forces (TNI) leadership in Jakarta, imagined that it would descend to such a level of barbarity. In just two weeks, these murderous bandits had driven virtually the entire East Timorese population from their homes, killing hundreds or perhaps thousands of defenceless people. This can only be understood in the context of the structural relationship between the militia forces and their evil masters, the Kopassus elite troops.

Kopassus and East Timor

The involvement of Kopassus, the elite red-beret force, in East Timor started before the invasion. General Benny Murdani who planned the invasion was a senior officer of RPKAD as Kopassus was then known. Its role intensified as it became apparent that the resistance was far stronger than had been anticipated and it would take longer than expected to subjugate the East Timorese. Kopassus became the key player in the war against the East Timorese.

The average territorial soldier is not trained for the type of war needed to counter a guerrilla force like Falintil, the armed wing of the East Timorese resistance. Specially trained combat forces like Kostrad, the army's strategic command, and Kopassus were needed. Since 1975, every Kopassus soldier and officer has served, often repeatedly, in East Timor. During the eighties and mid-nineties, a tour of combat duty in East Timor was the stepping-stone for an officer's career prospects. Everyone who reached the top was an East Timor veteran, in most cases with a Kopassus background. By the early nineties the armed forces HQ was stuffed with high-ranking Kopassus officers.

East Timor as training ground

Kopassus soldiers are known to be tough. One initiation rite is to travel from the north coast to the south coast of Java armed only with a knife, survival training that is modelled on SAS in the UK and the Green Berets in the US.

After the invasion, East Timor became the training and battle ground for Kopassus which sustained many casualties in encounters with Falintil. A retired TNI general recently estimated that ten or eleven thousand Indonesian soldiers have fallen in battle which explains why Kopassus have behaved with such brutality in East Timor.

Even in calm periods, serving in East Timor has been comparable to doing service in a war-zone. Every East Timorese was regarded as a suspect; the culture of violence was more extreme than anywhere else though lately the situation in Aceh has moved in the same direction. After serving in East Timor, soldiers are psychologically de-briefed before returning to normal duties in Indonesia. Such brutal treatment, while used occasionally in Indonesia, is what the East Timorese have always had to endure.

Up to the early eighties the basic Kopassus credo was never to take prisoners: all captives were tortured, interrogated and killed. Until very recently, Kopassus had its own interrogation centres throughout East Timor. These SGI centres were regarded as chambers of horror by the East Timorese. It was only after the 1983 talks between the East Timorese resistance forces and the Indonesian military that Kopassus reluctantly agreed to hand their captives over for detention and trial.

The dual command structure

The TNI leadership created a special command structure for the military occupation of East Timor. Combat operations were handled by Kostrad and Kopassus under orders from Jakarta while the territorial structure, as elsewhere in Indonesia, came under the regional command.

The special combat structure came into being soon after the invasion. In 1976 a special command called Kohankam was set up; its name changed in 1984 to Koopskam and in 1989 to Kolakops. In 1993 Kolakops was dissolved but its functions were secretly transferred to Kopassus Group 3.

The combat structure has always been dominant though operational strategies have changed. In the first fifteen years of the occupation TNI launched many large-scale military operations to obliterate the guerrillas but Falintil has survived, thanks to its deep roots in society and its strategy of mobile guerrilla warfare, maintaining no permanent base. For many years East Timor was the only place where Indonesian troops and Kopassus soldiers could practise their combat training.

By the early nineties the resistance had developed a strong urban base known as the clandestine front, consisting mainly of young people. They took many actions against the forces of occupation, frequently attracting world attention. Gradually, the command structure switched, combating not only the guerrillas but also the urban resistance. The clandestine network also spread to several Indonesian university cities.

The main thrust of Kopassus operations is counter-insurgency. Everyone is seen as a potential target, the people in the bush as well as civilians in the towns. Creating militia forces was a logical consequence of this strategy, to get Timorese to fight Timorese.

Kopassus Groups 3, 4 and 5

Initially Kopassus consisted of three groups. Groups 1 and 2 were predominantly combat troops similar to combat troops anywhere in the world. Group 3 came into being in 1963, with additional training in counter insurgency, including interrogation techniques and torture methods. The SGI centres in East Timor were attached to Group 3. Increasingly the two lines of command in East Timor were headed by commanders from Kopassus' Group 3, with many lower-level territorial commanders also coming from the same force. In other words, Kopassus represented the core of the army of occupation.

After Prabowo, Suharto's son-in-law, became Kopassus commander in 1995, he increased the strength of Kopassus to 7,000 troops by 1998, almost double its earlier size. Prabowo's prowess as an elite force officer reached his peak in the closing years of the Suharto era, a period of huge labour strikes and demonstrations as pressure gre for Suharto to stand down. To deal with the growing unrest, Prabowo established Groups 4 and 5, most of whose members were recruited from Group 3. Group 4 and 5 members were trained in German anti-terrorist methods, Prabowo being one of the few Indonesian officers to train with the prestigious GSG anti-terrorist squad in Germany. One distinctive feature of Groups 4 and 5 are that the members do not wear uniforms.

Group 4 focuses on infiltrating opposition groups and act as provocateurs. They grow their hair long, dress shabbily, set up secret cells and sometimes carry out assassinations. Terror and violence are their stock in trade and they frequently recruit criminals as auxiliaries.

Group 5 is not unlike Group 4 but was set up to kidnap or kill influential opposition figures in the closing years of Suharto's rule. In August 1998 Prabowo admitted to a military investigation team that he was responsible for a number of kidnappings and disappearances. He and two other senior Kopassus officers were removed from their posts, Prabowo was dismissed from the army and 11 Kopassus Group 5 members were tried and given minor sentences. They were known as Tim Mawar (Rose Team).

The activities of Groups 4 and 5 are shrouded in mystery. After Prabowo's dismissal, several Group 4 and 5 platoons were reported as having defected. Since then, there has been talk of 'phantom' troops operating in Aceh and Maluku, which suggests that the 'disappeared' Kopassus platoons may still be operating though no one knows who is in command.

Rotten to the core

Kopassus, formerly called the RPKAD and then Kopassandha, is elite in every sense. One Kopassus soldier is said to equal four average soldiers. In the early sixties RPKAD was seen as the army's best unit, modelled along the lines of KST, a Dutch elite unit. But later on, the US green berets became the model as Kopassus troops relied on the US for all its training.

Throughout its history its men have enjoyed superior treatment, better uniforms and barracks, more high tech equipment and higher pay with extra bonuses. It was Prabowo's dream to provide every Kopassus soldier with high tech training, with a Heckler and Koch semi-automatic rifle and a hand-held computer for communications.

At the start of the Suharto era in October 1965, Brigadier-General Sarwo Edhy, the RPKAD commander, was ordered by General Suharto to unleash a wave of killings in Central Java; Muslim gangs quickly joined, spreading the killings to East Java. Between half a million and one million people died in the slaughter.

This was when violence and impunity became the hallmark of the New Order. The RPKAD had become a killing machine that could do what it liked without taking the con-sequences. Assured of impunity, Kopassus soldiers got into the habit of behaving like animals in war zones like East Timor and Aceh.

Financial bonanzas

The years of rapid economic growth opened up new vistas for Kopassus soldiers. Businesses in the big cities needed protection and hired the services of Kopassus soldiers; partnerships were formed in the country's industrial and business centres between these troops and organised crime. They also recruited local thugs, including members of the notorious youth group Pemuda Pancasila, for the more distasteful political jobs. Kopassus involvement with organised crime and the mafia became structural. Leading businessmen, the cronies of Suharto, hired Kopassus soldiers as bodyguards or chauffeurs. The private bodyguard of forestry tycoon Bob Hasan was from Kopassus.

Little is known about how Prabowo financed the rapid expansion of Kopassus or the expanded training and education programme for Kopassus officers who were sent to universities in Europe and the US. One likely source for this and later for secret Kopassus operations, including the recent operations in East Timor, is the Suharto clique, includ-ing Prabowo's business-woman wife, Titiek Suharto and his older brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo. Kopassus also had its own businesses, including a shopping mall in Jakarta, but the economic meltdown after 1997 may have had a damaging effect on these sources of funding.

The birth of the new militia

The relationship between militia groups and Kopassus is structural [see 'The army's dirty war in East Timor', TAPOL Bulletin No. 153, July 1999]. Habibie's decision in January to hold a referendum in East Timor led to the creation of militia units in all the thirteen districts (kabupaten). Most of the 11,000 militiamen were trained in West Timor by Group 4 and 5 Kopassus members. Most members of the militias were non-Timorese from other parts of Indonesia, the dregs of society, including criminals especially released from prison.

These new militia gangs or death squads included Besi Merah Putih (red-and-white steel) in Liquisa, Aitarak (thorn) in Dili, Dadurus in Maliana and Mahidi (dead or alive with integration) in Ainaro. These are the thugs who, with their Kopassus masters, were responsible for the killings and devastation that grew in intensity during 1999 and came to a terrifying climax in September 1999.

Operasi Sapu Jagad-I fails

There were two military operations called Sapu Jagad (universal sweep). The first was launched in January 1999; the second took over after the result of the referendum was announced on 4 September.

Operasi Sapu Jagad I targeted the CNRT, the pro-independence umbrella organisation, and influential mem-bers of society, the aim being to intimidate the population into supporting autonomy. It was hoped that months of vio-lence would discourage people from registering and voting, to show to the world that the East Timorese rejected the ref-erendum. Most TNI officers actually believed that Sapu Jagad would work.

Since Habibie's announcement in January, opinions have been divided as to why leading TNI generals accepted the move. The majority, including almost all Kopassus officers, could not accept the prospect of 'losing' East Timor and they would go to any lengths to prevent this from happening.

Wiranto's involvement

But what about commander-in-chief General Wiranto? What was his role in organising, training and supplying the militia? The training of around 11,000 militia in West Timor could never have gone ahead without his knowledge and consent. General Wiranto, an astute political strategist, wanted a win-win situation. As defence minister, he supported the referendum, believing, like Habibie, that the East Timor issue had cost Indonesia far too much internationally, politically and economically. But as TNI commander-in-chief, Wiranto supported the military intelligence/Kopassus strategy of ensuring a vote for autonomy. The key men in charge, Major-General Zacky Anwar Makarim and Major-General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, were both appointed by him.

Operasi Sapu Jagad-II

After the referendum results were announced on 4 September, the militias and their Kopassus bosses unleashed a scorched-earth policy of gigantic proportions. Para-military forces joined the fray, along with six TNI battalions, including two notorious local battalions, 744 and 745. Altogether about 15,000 men were involved. Without such a large contingent of men, it could never have taken hold so rapidly.

Although Sapu Jagad-II sought to create the impression that this was a spontaneous outpouring of anger by pro-Indonesia forces, there is overwhelming evidence that the destruction was a well-prepared military operation. In many places, villagers were forced to destroy and burn their own neighbourhoods, even their own houses. The aim was to destroy as much as possible and punish the pillars of the pro-independence movement. The Catholic Church, which had given sanctuary to fleeing East Timorese throughout the occupation, was one of the main targets. General Wiranto may not have been aware of the scale of Sapu Jagad II, but within days, things had gone too far for him to rein in the monster he had helped to create. He was visibly shocked when he visited Dili with five Security Council ambassadors on 11 September. This was when he decided that he could no long withstand world pressure for international intervention.

The main villains

For most of 1999, the man in charge was Major-General Zacky Anwar Makarim, until January 1999 head of BIA (renamed BAIS in April 1999), the military intelligence agency, who was the most senior officer on the ground in East Timor. After initially operating undercover, he was given official status when Wiranto appointed him as the TNI liaison officer with UNAMET. Zacky has had a long involvement with East Timor and served as an intelligence officer from 1983 to 1989; he is the proto-type of an officer who combines a Kopassus background with years of intelligence experience.

The other key officers were Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin, Brig.-General Mahidin Simbolon and Major-General Adam Damiri.

Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin also combines Kopassus combat and intelligence experience. He graduated from the military academy in 1974 and first saw duty in East Timor in 1976. He was a member of what became known as the 'nanggala' teams, the Kopassus counter-insurgency units which became infamous throughout East Timor for their unremitting acts of terror and brutality. Syafrie attended a special intelligence course in the US in 1977 and later received anti-terrorist training there in 1986. During the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991, he was head of Kopassus intelligence in East Timor and is widely believed to have been the key man behind the massacre.

Brig-General Mahidin Simbolon, also from the class of 1974, has spent at least eight years in East Timor, including six tours of duty and between 1975 and 1997, eventually becoming military commander (Danrem Wirad-harme 164). He took part in the invasion of East Timor in December 1975. Mahidin Simbolon took the credit for arresting Xanana Gusmao in 1992 for which he was promoted to colonel. From 1993-1995 he headed intelligence at Kopassus. After his tour of duty as Dili commander, he retained his close connection with East Timor by being appointed chief-of-staff of Kodam IX Udayana, the military command in Bali, a post he still occupies.

These three officers are all very close to Prabowo whose connections with East Timor extend much farther and deeper than any other Kopassus officer. Sjafrie and Mahidin graduated from the military academy in 1974 together with Prabowo while Zacky Anwar from the class of '71 is a close personal friend of Prabowo's family.

Major-General Adam Damiri has also a Kopassus background but served most of his military life in Kostrad uniform. He is currently commander of Kodam IX Udayana and together with chief-of-staff Simbolon, facilitated the training of militias in West Timor. The logistics, financial support and weaponry for the militia mostly went through this territorial command. Throughout the two Sapu Jagad operations, intelligence, combat and territorial activities were closely co-ordinated.

Now that these operations have ended, Adam Damiri is encouraging TNI soldiers of East Timorese origin to shed their uniforms and fight a guerrilla war against independent East Timor. These openly subversive plans are based in West Timor which is under Damiri's command.

The second echelon operators

Two lower-ranking officers involved were: Lt.-Colonel Nugroho and Lt.-Colonel Yayak Sudradjat, both Kopassus intelligence officers. Yayak Sudradjat was involved in the Liquisa bloodbath in April. They worked closely with territorial officers, including Colonel Tono Suratman, the military commander of Korem 164 Wiradharma of East Timor and the thirteen district commanders. Many interna-tional observers who were in East Timor for the ballot have testified to the involvement of TNI territorial units in supporting the militia.

Another key operator was Colonel Gerhan Lantara, commander of the notorious Airborne Brigade Brigif Linud 17. This Kostrad brigade was one of the first units parachuted into Dili in 1975. He has a long history of service in East Timor with Prabowo. During the peaceful demonstration that preceded the Santa Cruz massacre on 12 November 1991, Lantara infiltrated the crowd. When he was spotted behaving provocatively, someone slashed him with a knife. He was flown out of East Timor within hours and 'disappeared' for several years. Mystery surrounded his absence from the official inquiry into the massacre in 1992. [See TAPOL Bulletin No 108, December 1991.] In 1996 he re-emerged as commander of Kopassus intelligence, after having been protected all those years by Prabowo. He later re-appeared in East Timor as the officer in charge of sector A (Dili and surroundings). Although sectors A, B, and C had been formally disbanded many years earlier when the operational command called Koopskam was disbanded, the structure remained in place.

The International Commission of Inquiry should look closely at the role of all these officers and build up cases against them with the help of personal testimonies from East Timorese.

TNI in a crisis of its own making

Operasi Sapu Jagad was clearly a disaster for the TNI, and in political terms, its worst ever blunder. Although seasoned Indonesia watchers have known the capacity of the Indonesian army for unrelenting brutality, it was this campaign that finally exposed it to worldwide opprobrium. Now at last, governments around the world which have shamelessly fostered ties with this killer force are themselves realising that it will have to be called to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Domestically, the TNI is being widely condemned for its numerous acts of barbarism, dating back to the 1965/1966 massacre.

At the same time, tensions within the TNI are manifold and Wiranto's efforts to hold the factions together are proving increasing difficult [see article on TNI]. He tried to project a good image in May 1998 when he ditched Suharto and opted for reformasi. Foreign governments were impressed by what they saw as his leanings towards democracy. But the two weeks of terror in East Timor changed everything. He claims that the referendum was lost because of vote-rigging by East Timorese local staff working for UNAMET and argues that his troops were unable to stop the militia violence because of a 'psychological barrier' which prevented them from firing at their 'comrade-in-arms'. Such explanations impress few people in the world at large and not many people at home either. But they may be able to hold the TNI together, until the next disaster occurs.

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