Subject: TNI Chief Plays Coy as 'S' Scandal Rattles Military

The Jakarta Globe Thursday, February 5, 2009

TNI Chief Plays Coy as 'S' Scandal Rattles Military

Markus Junianto Sihaloho

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Djoko Santoso played coy on Wednesday when asked about possible questioning from the House of Representatives regarding the military's neutrality in the upcoming elections.

Djoko told reporters that he had not yet received a summons from the House asking him to explain what he knew about a rumor that an Army officer had tried to influence military families against voting for a presidential candidate whose name — like the president's — began with the letter "S."

"I do not know about that. I have yet to receive any letter from the House," Djoko said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made the allegation about the unnamed Army officer during a speech to members of the military, or TNI, and National Police regarding the importance of security forces remaining neutral during this year's elections. The remark has since unleashed a political tit-for-tat with the military caught in the middle.

On Tuesday, Tjahjo Kumolo, who chairs the House's faction of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, called on Djoko to be prepared to talk about the issue next week at a scheduled appearance.

Asked whether he would be happy to oblige, Djoko said he would not comment on something so uncertain.

"There has not yet been any invitation [from the House], so I will wait for that first," he said.

The Army has since addressed the controversy by calling more than 150 retired former high-ranking Army officers in a closed-door meeting along with about 100 active Army officers, including Army Chief Gen. Agustadi Sasongko Purnomo, to discuss how they would maintain political neutrality.

On Wednesday, the commander of the National Air Defense Command Headquarters, Air Commodore JPF Sitompul, also called together hundreds of his subordinates in Jakarta to remind them of their obligation to maintain political neutrality.

Sitompul called on soldiers to remember that they worked on behalf of all Indonesians.

"So we must be fair to all the citizens by not supporting certain political groups," Sitompul said.

Meanwhile, Navy Chief Adm. Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno said on Wednesday he felt confident of his own subordinates' political neutrality.

He said he would not launch an investigation into whether any soldiers had broken the code.

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono had summoned him, along with the Army, Air Force and senior military chiefs, last week to talk about the "S" rumor. "I do not know why the issue has grown so big," Tedjo said.

Agustinus Edy Kristianto, spokesman for the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, or YLBHI, said on Wednesday that the military should remember their commitment to remain neutral.

He said most middle- and high-ranking officers had served in the military before the advent of wide-sweeping reforms, when the TNI both provided security and had a key role in the nation's political and social affairs.

He said the experience may have left the old guard susceptible to political temptations.

"We also should enact a law barring politicians from approaching soldiers for political purposes," Agustinus said.

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