Abri to put troops on high alert to quell possible polls violence

Run-up to Indonesian elections ——————————

Clampdown to last till presidential contest in ’98

IN A move signalling the resolve of the Indonesian Armed Forces (Abri) to quell unrest, a top military officer has said that he would put troops under his command on heightened alert in the run-up to next month’s polls and right up to the presidential elections next year.

Lieutenant-General Wiranto, chief of Army Strategic Command (Kostrad), said his 27,000-strong command, which is organised into two divisions and 33 battalions, was mapping out a strategy to prevent disturbances.

“We are determined to take harsh action against people who disrupt the elections,” news reports yesterday quoted him as saying.

Lt-Gen Wiranto, a prominent rising star in Abri tipped by military analysts to be the next army chief, said that Kostrad, which has combat airborne capability with a reach across the Indonesian archipelago, was watching developments during the polls very closely.

“We observe that the socio-political climate will continue heating up until the People’s Consultative Assembly convenes to elect a new president in 1998,” said the three-star general.

His comments came after some 5,000 loyalists of ousted Indonesian Democratic Party chief Megawati Soekarnoputri threw rocks and fought with rival supporters in Surabaya on Monday.

Police said no arrests were made and the situation was brought under control quickly by security forces.

Indonesia has been rocked by political violence recently. Earlier this month, riots broke out in some Central Java towns while Java and West Kalimantan saw ethnic unrest over the last year.

Sources said Abri has identified Java and West Kalimantan as areas requiring “more attention” during this election, given the recent violence there.

According to Abri spokesman Brigadier-General Slamet Supriadi, various military units, including the special forces and marines, would be put on standby. He said the security forces would not hesitate to take firm measures against those threatening national security.

Police chief Lieutenant-General Dibyo Widodo said last week that the police would use armoured vehicles to quell disturbances.

Observers said the beefing up of military presence throughout the country was a sign that Abri was strengthening its resolve to deal with a variety of security problems they might encounter during the polls.

One analyst said there were many anti-government elements, including Megawati loyalists, that could threaten the country.

“Abri is not going to give them a free reign,” he said.

Military sources said the new campaign rules banning street rallies were somewhat effective in stemming election-related violence.

But it was too soon to tell, said one source, adding that the potential for violence was still there.

Abri’s chief of socio-political affairs, Lieutenant-General Syarwan Hamid, said earlier this month that the military found it difficult to cope with the recent riots.

“We find ourselves in a dilemma. If we move to handle something too quickly, we are accused of interfering. If we play by the rules or follow procedures, then we are left out or lose out, he said.

But he stressed that the military would not “bargain” when it came to safeguarding the election, and that those who fanned unrest would have to contend with Abri.

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