Subject: Military Breakdown Threatens Indonesia's Reforms

Associated Press September 7, 2000

Military Breakdown Threatens Indonesia's Reforms


JAKARTA (AP)--Three U.N. workers are stabbed and beaten to death in West Timor. Their bodies are burned in the street. Indonesian troops do nothing to stop the brutal attack that stuns the international community.

The slayings by pro-Indonesian militiamen in the town of Atambua represent the strongest indication to date that the chain of command in Indonesia's once monolithic army has broken down, threatening hopes that the nation can remain united as it builds a new democracy.

"The fragmentation of the Indonesian military has reached the point that they have difficulty controlling the situation in Timor and elsewhere," Harold Crouch, an expert on the Indonesian armed forces at the Australian National University in Canberra, said Thursday.

"One likely explanation for what happened on Wednesday in West Timor is that was all manipulated from Jakarta," said Crouch.

Foreign diplomats also speculated that Wednesday's murders may have been orchestrated by army hardliners in Jakarta to humiliate reformist President Abdurrahman Wahid and convince Western governments to withdraw their support for his increasingly ineffectual administration.

Wednesday's killings happened just hours before the U.N. Millennium Summit, where U.N. chief Kofi Annan, U.S. President Bill Clinton and other leaders in the presence of Wahid criticized Indonesia for not preventing the bloodshed.

Wahid, whose humiliation was evident, has often accused sections of the military of triggering bloodshed and mayhem to destabilize his 11-month old government as it struggles to keep Indonesia together.

A Country Wracked By Repeated Outbreaks Of Violence

Since Wahid assumed power, the land of 17,000 islands and hundreds of ethnic groups stretched across an area the size of the U.S. has been wracked by repeated outbreaks of violence.

Thousands have been killed in Aceh, Sulawesi, the Maluku island and West Papua, along with West Timor.

Indonesia's army formed the main pillar of former president Suharto's 32-year dictatorship that collapsed in 1998. It exercised tight control, repressing all opposition to the regime and using force to ensure the unity of the ethnically, religiously and racially disparate archipelago.

In the process, the army committed massive human rights abuses, and earned the lasting enmity of large sections of the population.

Suharto, himself a five-star army general, rewarded their loyalty by appointing senior officers to key positions in the government and the rubber-stamp legislature. Retired generals were made provincial governors, ambassadors, or managers of state enterprises.

Meanwhile, the army's 14 regional commanders enjoyed wide autonomy, controlling an extensive network of lucrative businesses.

In East Timor, which Indonesia invaded and occupied in 1974, the generals ran coffee and sandalwood plantations.

But the fortunes of the army, which accounts for about two-thirds of Indonesia's 300,000 military servicemen, took a dive with Wahid's election last October.

He moved quickly to rein in the powerful brass by appointing navy admirals and air force generals to top command positions and abolishing the doctrine of "dwifungsi," or dual function, which allowed the top brass to meddle in the workings of the government.

The army's fortunes reached their nadir last February when Wahid cashiered the powerful Security Minister, Gen. Wiranto, after he was accused of being responsible for the destruction of East Timor by army-sponsored militia gangs following an independence vote a year ago.

Suharto's Loyalists Try To Reclaim Political Clout

Since then, however, a faction of Suharto loyalists has been gradually reclaiming some of the lost political clout.

Last month the parliament surprised many when it passed a constitutional amendment granting blanket amnesty for past human rights abuses and another extending the military's tenure in the legislature until 2009.

The hard-liners also have been able to weed out reformist army generals appointed by Wahid to top positions, replacing them with more compliant commanders.

The International Crisis Group said in a report released earlier this week that regional commanders often ignored orders from the central government.

"Some retired officers continue to influence serving officers to carry out activities, including aggravation of social conflict, to undermine the stability of civilian government," the nonprofit research and advocacy group said.

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