'Indonesian Military seems to be on a 'mission'

Muspani is a member of the Regional Representatives Council (DPD) who chairs a team which has tried to collect facts from the field over the rampant violence in Central Sulawesi's towns of Palu and Poso. In an interview with The Jakarta Post's Tiarma Siborohe shared his thoughts and findings about the conflict area.

Question: After conducting a field investigation in Poso and surrounding troubled towns in Central Sulawesi province, what can you say about the rampant violence there?

Answer: Currently there is a dichotomy between the local civilian leaders and the military in viewing the rising violence in the area. The civilians believe that the military has been involved in provoking conflict there, while the military has cited cases involving civilians provoking the situation leading to violence, such as rampant corruption and also the presence of terrorist cells -- I see the so-called terrorists as armed civilian groups.

Nowadays, there is much discussion among civilians who are asking why the presence of thousands of security personnel has failed to curb the violence there. Rising distrust toward the security personnel has also come to the surface, with some asking whether there are "certain groups" inside the military and the police which are in the areas without any control from their headquarters.

Let look at the case of Fabianus Tibo, who has been convicted of mass killing during the sectarian clashes. During recent questioning, Tibo disclosed 16 names, including local civilian and military figures, whom he said have been involved in provoking violence there. However, law enforcers have not shown any willingness to follow up his testimony. To date, there has been no move to clarify whether his testimony was true, given that security personnel already have names in their pockets to be questioned.

Do you believe that religious sentiments are the main problem that is driving the violence?

We have dropped any assumptions that religious sentiment is the main problem in the area. The latest cases have showed that religious issues have nothing to do with the violence there as we have witnessed that the attack on a market in the predominantly Christian town of Tentena in May last year failed to provoke violence. Also the beheadings of three Christian schoolgirls ahead of the last year's Idul Fitri, and the recent attack on a market in the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu.

Intelligence authorities once said the area was a hotbed for terrorist cells. They even said there was a certain place which had been set up as a terrorist training camp. Now, we are asking the intelligence officers to show us where it is. Does the presence of the camp have something to do with the widespread circulation of firearms and explosives in the towns? We have recorded that so many firearms produced by either (the state-run) PT Pindad or foreign companies have flooded into the towns.

What is your suggestion?

There is no option but to set up an independent fact-finding team to investigate cases of violence in the areas, which began in late 1998. During the past year, we have seen one case after another continuing there, with law enforcers failing to name any suspect.

If the President approved the establishment of the fact-finding team, what should the team do first?

The team should recommend that the President hold an internal evaluation of the military, police and intelligence institutions. The President must ask clarification from top leaders of the three institutions. I would have to say that security personnel there seem to be carrying out "missions". Local civilian figures have even recognized that certain groups are not under the control of their headquarters. They have mentioned Tim Bunga (Flower Team), whose task supposedly has nothing to do with counter-intelligence operations. Instead, their presence may create the conflict itself.

There are widespread rumors that a group of Wiranto's men (a former armed forces chief), or other groups are playing a role in the conflict. This is easy to see by looking at the current rifts within the military elite. Leaders of these institutions cannot point their fingers to an X factor, saying security personnel should not be blamed for the turmoil there. If they are innocent, they must prove it by providing an explanation to the public.

Who will be in charge in the fact-finding team?

The team must consist of local leaders, with the assistance of several figures from the central government. The President must give them room to investigate the continuing violence there. Of course, the establishment of the fact-finding team will not end the problems, but at least it will describe general problems there. Even if the President refuses to execute recommendations proposed by the team -- as we have seen in several cases -- the people of this country will take note of the real facts.

* Published by The Jakarta Post on January 5, 2006