Subject: JP: New TNI spokesman Sjafrie's new controversy

The Jakarta Post February 25, 2002

New TNI spokesman, Sjafrie's new controversy

Imanuddin, Staff writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

There was a total of 118 high-ranking officers affected by the Feb. 15 reshuffle of the Indonesian Military (TNI), but a particularly controversial change was the appointment of Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin as the new TNI spokesman replacing Rear Adm. Graito Usodo.

The promotion of Sjafrie came as a surprise, not only to the general public, but also to the TNI high ranking promotions and duty rotation council (Wanjakti), as the council had reportedly recommended Navy spokesman Commodore Franky Kayhatu as the TNI spokesman.

Although a president, who is also the Supreme Commander of the TNI, has nothing to do with the appointment of a military spokesman, an unnamed military source speculated that the appointment of Sjafrie resulted from a meeting between TNI Commander Adm. Widodo A.S. and President Megawati Soekarnoputri at her residence on Jl. Teuku Umar in Central Jakarta hours before a TNI leadership meeting on the evening of Feb. 15, which finalized the massive reshuffle.

The speculation, however, was denied by Graito, an Air Force officer, who said that his replacement by Sjafrie, an Army officer, was just a rotation which had long been on the cards as part of a standardized and fair planning system.

Sjafrie has been blamed for the deaths of four Trisakti University students in May 1998 when they, along with hundreds of other students, staged a rally in protest at former president Soeharto's 32 years of autocratic rule.

The Trisakti incident, which triggered three days of massive riots across the nation leaving no less than 1,000 people dead in Jakarta alone, helped force Soeharto to step down in disgrace.

Being the Jakarta military commander, Sjafrie, along with his close ally and classmate in the Military Academy, former Army's Strategic Reserves (Kostrad) commander Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto, was largely blamed for the military's inability to quash the riots and protect innocent citizens.

Until now, more than three years after the riots took place, the tragedy has remained unresolved.

Many also believe that Sjafrie was one of the key military figures involved in the preparation and establishment of pro-Jakarta militia groups in East Timor in the run-up to the United Nations-sponsored referendum.

Sjafrie was once questioned by the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations (KPP HAM) as eyewitnesses had told the Inquiry that Sjafrie was seen at the scene when militias attacked Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo's residence in Dili, East Timor, on Sept. 6, 1999.

But, unlike his other military colleagues former Udayana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri and former East Timor Wiradharma Military Resort Commanders Brig. Gen. Tono Suratman and Brig. Gen. A. Nur Muis, Sjafrie was not declared a suspect.

Sjafrie, who graduated from the Armed Forces Academy (Akabri) in 1974 with the citation of best graduate, is also to be subpoenaed by the National Commission of Inquiry probing the three fatal shootings: the Trisakti, Semanggi I and Semanggi II killings.

Coming from the ranks of the Kopassus elite Army corps, his career quickly blossomed, in step with the meteoric rise of Prabowo. He served as one of former president Soeharto's adjutants, a prestigious and advantageous position for a military officer in the Soeharto era, from 1993 until 1995.

But numerous human rights abuses and violations occurred at the time he was Jakarta's military commander. Political dissent was dealt with harshly and ruthlessly. Political dissidents opposing Soeharto's New Order regime disappeared without a trace, or were held incommunicado for days or weeks in secret cells in terrible conditions.

At present, investigations into the human rights abuses that occurred around that time are still underway though the military is so far refusing to cooperate. That's why many, not only at home but abroad as well, oppose Sjafrie's appointment to such an important post.

Sjafrie is among the top military officers whom the KPP HAM on the Trisakti, Semanggi I and Semanggi II incidents has summoned to appear. So far, all of them have refused.

A senior military officer, however, defended Sjafrie's appointment as the TNI spokesman, arguing that he had not yet been proven guilty of the human rights violation allegations against him.

As a military officer Sjafrie has mastered a wide range of military skills and techniques.

He has been involved in a series of military operations in Aceh, East Timor and Irian Jaya, and also participated in a series of military exercises at both local and international institutions.

Sjafrie has passed courses on basic Special Force tactics, intelligence, Air Borne qualification, advanced military, antiterrorism, and strategic intelligence as well.

And his degree in Business Administration, which he obtained in 1993, has made him fit, and possibly even overqualified, for the post of TNI spokesman.

He is the second TNI spokesman with a master's degree as well as military skills, after Maj. Gen. Sudradjat, who is now Director-general of Defense Strategy at the Ministry of Defense. Sudradjat was the TNI spokesman from 1999 until 2000.

But, despite all the allegations, Sjafrie has likely enjoyed his appointment as a TNI spokesman.

Unlike many of his seniors or colleagues who were removed from their posts following allegations of human rights abuses despite no subsequent trials proving their wrongdoings, Sjafrie was only "kept" at "home" for several years before being given the opportunity for a return to active and obvious military service.

People must still remember the case involving Maj. Gen. Sintong Panjaitan, then Udayana Military Commander overseeing Bali, East and West Nusa Tenggara and East Timor provinces, who was removed in December 1991 over his alleged responsibility in the Nov. 12, 1999 Santa Cruz incident in the East Timor capital of Dili, which left 50 dead.

Without attempting to take his side, Sintong's alleged wrongdoing has never been tried at home, but his military career hasn't been revived either.

Similarly, Prabowo has never regained his place in the military after being "honorably" discharged from his post as Chief of the Military Staff and Command School (Seskogab) in 1998 following rights abuse allegations surrounding the disappearance of student and political activists in early 1998.

And with his appointment as the TNI spokesman, the opportunity is still there for Sjafrie to continue to advance his military career. The opportunity is also there for him to prove whether all the rights abuse allegations against him are true or not.

It has in the past few years been accepted in military and police circles that being a spokesman no longer means the end of one's career, such as happened in the past.

Two good examples were the appointment of former Armed Forces (ABRI) spokesman Lt. Gen. Syarwan Hamid as the ABRI Chief of Sociopolitical Affairs and Gen. Da'i Bachtiar, a former National Police spokesman, as the National Police chief.

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