Subject: TNI Should Be Given Special Legal Treatment When Committing Civilian Crimes: Spokesman

The Jakarta Globe Saturday, February 14, 2009

Special Treatment for TNI

Markus Junianto Sihaloho

Members of the Indonesian military, or TNI, should be given exceptional treatment under the law when suspected of civilian crimes, a senior officer argued on Friday during the deliberation of a long-debated military tribunal bill.

Air Vice Marshall Sagom Tamboen, a TNI spokesman, urged members of the House of Representatives, or DPR, deliberating the bill to endorse a proposal that servicemen suspected of a civilian crime be questioned by military police, instead of civilian police, as some lawmakers have demanded.

"It is not a privilege, but I think the state should give different legal treatment to citizens who have special tasks," said Sagom, adding that the military differed from ordinary people as they had to be willing to sacrifice their lives for the country in a war.

Sagom was reacting to a stalemate in the deliberation of the military tribunal bill over the point of who should question military personnel when they stood accused of a civilian crime.

The Indonesian Democracy Party of Struggle, or PDI-P; the National Mandate Party, or PAN; the United Development Party, or PPP, and National Awakening Party, or PKB, factions have insisted that all civilian crimes, including those committed by TNI members, be investigated by civilian police. The government and military leaders insist that TNI members be questioned by military police, as is the practice now, with Golkar; the Democrat Party; the Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS; Prosperous Peace Party, or PDS; and Democratic Vanguard Star, or PPD, factions all supporting the status quo.

Sagom said military police were tasked with investigating all crimes committed by soldiers, including civilian crimes.

"They should also consider that many soldiers, especially from lower ranks, are not yet ready to be questioned by police officers," Sagom said.

During a hearing of House Commission I, which oversees military and security affairs, lawmakers deliberating the bill agreed to put the issue to a vote in a House plenary meeting.

"It's very likely that the issue will be resolved through a voting in a House plenary meeting," said Andreas Hugo Pareira, chairman of the House special commission deliberating the bill.

Andreas said earlier that all House factions in the commission agreed to endorse the bill before their tenure ends in August.

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, who represented the government in the deliberations, said he would not force the House to conclude the bill's deliberation as soon as possible.

"We are ready to wait for the House to make a decision [on the deadlock]," he said on Thursday.

The military tribunal bill was supposed to be part of efforts to reform the military by placing it on an equal footing with civilians.

The bill also proposes that soldiers accused of criminal offences be tried in civilian courts, which often hand down tougher sentences compared to military courts. While agreeing to subject military members to civilian courts, the government and the military have insisted that military police would investigate military personnel accused of committing a civilian crime.

Legislators began working on the bill four years ago. In 2006, a year-long impasse between the special committee and the Defense Ministry forced President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue a statement saying his administration supported the bill's basic principles.

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