02/21/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA

Reducing the Indonesian military's hold over civil society

New armed forces chief wants greater respect for democracy, human rights, political pluralism and military out of business. It remains unclear though how this can be achieved without weakening the institution.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Indonesia's new armed forces chief, Air Marshal Joko Suyanto, wants to transform Indonesia's military into a modern defence force, keep it out of politics, and respect democracy and human rights. But for observers, any reform plan will be an uphill battle.

For decades under autocratic former President Suharto the military exerted enormous influence over civilian affairs, ran its own sometimes illicit cash-generating businesses and was accused of blatant human rights abuses.

"The military's network of legal and illegal businesses—from airlines to logging companies—reaches into almost every sector of South-East Asia's largest economy, and is a rich source of income for individual commanders," said military and politics analyst Bob Lowry.

In particular, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a former army general, is unlikely to want to deprive the military of its major source of funds, Mr Lowry explained.

"If the president wants to be re-elected, then he doesn't want to make any more enemies than he has to," he noted.

At best, dismantling the businesses, estimated several years ago as providing up to 70 per cent of the military's operational costs, will take at least a decade, according to Riza Sihbudi, an analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

To pay the troops, admits Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono, would require at least twice the current budget of US$ 2.5 billion to pay his troops properly.

The military's blighted human rights record includes allegations that they killed up to a quarter of the population in East Timor and thousands in Papua and Aceh. It will be difficult to bring past cases to court, because he [Air Marshal Suyanto] is from the air force, but most of those involved are from the army, Sihbudi warned.

And yet the military must remain in top shape because, despite the peace accord in Aceh, fighting between Christians and Muslims in the Malukus and Sulawesi might erupt again.

Its hardware is in need of upgrading after enduring a US military embargo—which ended last year—introduced in reaction to rights abuses in East Timor.

For Lowry though neither the defence ministry nor the military appeared to have thought about how Indonesia would face future defence threats. (PB)

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