Army wants power again

With mounting pressure from the public for soldiers to return to their barracks across the country, the Army is demanding that it be given a bigger role in handling security affairs in the country.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu said here on Thursday that the military's security role should be reinstated due to the threats of separatism and other security disturbances.

"In other countries like the U.S., Army troops are considered to be professional once they know how to use military equipment, how to shoot, and understand all of the combat tactics.

"But in Indonesia, we, the Army, are part of the people. We cannot leave domestic issues just anybody ... because we have different conditions from the U.S. We are still dealing with disintegration problems, whereas the U.S. is beyond that," said Ryamizard, adding that the Army was very concerned with the country's territorial integrity.

Ryamizard was briefing the press after holding a closed-door meeting with hundreds of active and retired top Army officers at the Army Headquarters on Jl. Juanda, Central Jakarta.

Those attending the meeting included coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno, Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, Gen. (ret.) Wiranto, Gen. (ret) Hartono, Gen. (ret) Subagyo Hadisiswoyo, Gen. (ret) Rudini and former Army Strategic Reserves Commander (Kostrad) Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo.

During the leadership of former dictator Soeharto, the military, particularly the Army, played a major decision-making role in the country's political, security and defense affairs.

Their dominant role, however, was whittled down somewhat in 1998 when Soeharto, who led the country for over 30 years, was forced to resign.

In 2000, the People's Consultative Assembly, the country's highest legislative body, issued decree No. VII limiting the role of military to defense affairs only. And in 2002, the MPR also agreed to end the military's political role by 2004.

Ryamizard said the idea of more involvement in handling domestic security should not be seen as military's return to day-to-day politics.

"We (the Army) are just sharing our ideas on how to prevent the country from disintegrating.

"When people talk about military professionalism by asking us to return to barracks ... I don't think they understand what the Indonesian Army is about," Ryamizard said.

Hartono and Wiranto said that the meeting was held in order to share their concerns about the country's serious problems of separatism in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and Papua provinces.

Both senior generals also called on the public to stop demanding that the Army try to emulate those in modern countries such as the U.S., reiterating that, "the Indonesian Army has its own specific affairs that make it impossible to stay away from handling domestic security issues."

Indonesia has traditionally adopted a distinctive viewpoint by which it defines "security and defense".

In the past, such a definition did not ignite too much debate as both were placed under the stewardship of the military which comprised the three armed forces and the police.

However, with the advent of the reform era the police were separated from the military and are now charged with handling domestic security.

Thus, the military cannot now indiscriminately intervene in domestic security situations, unless a request is made.

Military analyst Ikrar Nusabakti of the National Institute of Science (LIPI) criticized the Army's view on its security roles, saying that the officers were likely frustrated after they once had omnipotent influence, both in politics and security, which is now being pared down before their eyes.

"Since Ryamizard holds the top post in the Army, I see that the reform agenda has been completely dropped," Ikrar said.

Ikrar also said that too many "disputes" between the Army and the police in dividing their tasks while handling the country's domestic security problems, including the deployment of military troops should the police require their assistance, has likely motivated the Army to ask for its domestic roles back.

According to Article 4 of the Decree No. VII/200, the military still have three additional roles: conducting humanitarian civic missions, assisting the National Police in its security duties and participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

"If we evaluate the five years since reform began in the military, especially the Army, I'd like to say that it has failed to promote internal reform as well as to place the institution under a civilian government as part of the reposition process.

"And I think we still have to give a chance to the Police to deal with domestic security," Ikrar said.

*Published by The Jakarta Post, 02/21/2003