Abri chief warns of mass unrest

22,000 troops parade in massive show of force.

INDONESIAN armed forces (Abri) chief Feisal Tanjung yesterday warned of mass unrest that could be sparked by the deepening economic crisis, as security forces laid on a massive show of force to demonstrate their readiness to deal with rioters in Jakarta.

Jakarta military commander, Major-General Syafrie Syamsudin, meanwhile said that an extremist group was out to incite unrest during the economic crisis.

He did not name the group, but senior military figures have been referring to the banned People’s Democratic Party (PRD) regularly as being behind moves to destabilise the country.

General Feisal, inspecting 22,000 military and police personnel in full combat gear on parade near parliament, told them to be on the alert against disturbances of the next month’s Presidential Election.

“Negative signs are emerging with the economic crisis,” he told the men, who included personnel from the strategic reserve command and the elite special forces.

“In such conditions, disturbances to national stability can arise in the run-up to, during and after the meeting of the People’s Consultative Assembly. The unrest can take the form of demonstrations, mass unrest and radicalism.”

Analysts and intelligence sources contacted by The Sunday Times said that the show of force, which included a display of light armoured vehicles and troops rappelling down from hovering helicopters, indicated that Abri would strike hard against rioters.

The demonstration was also intended to assure the public that the military was in control despite the outbreak of a series of disturbances across the country in recent weeks.

The three-day exercise, which began in the capital on Thursday, was held against a backdrop of unrest in more than 10 towns in Central and East Java and in South Sulawesi, where riots have broken out over increasing food prices.

Gen Feisal said it was the duty of security units to guard against disturbances. And in a veiled threat that Abri would not hesitate to take firm action against those responsible, he added: “The security forces should respect the law and human rights but also maintain a high respect for the dignity and safety of the state.”

Maj-Gen Syafrie was confident that the exercise would deter would-be rioters in the run-up to the meeting of the 1,000-member consultative assembly, which will elect a president and vice-president.

A senior Indonesian intelligence officer said the exercise was a regular affair every five years before the presidential poll. But it now had added significance given the economic situation.

He said the potential for violence was “greatest in Jakarta, Central and East Java”.

“These are all pressure points and we anticipate localised demonstrations and conflicts in these areas in the next few weeks,” the one-star general said. “If the military is not prepared to deal with them, then the bigger the chances of riots breaking out.”

He said that while Abri was expecting problems, it did not anticipate that the matter would be large scale or on a national level.

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune yesterday quoted Admiral Joseph Prueher, commander of US forces in the Pacific, expressing concern that Indonesia could be on the verge of social and political instability.

The question of domestic turbulence is critical to the US military because of fears that instability could jeopardise secure passage of American warships through the Malacca Straits, the quickest route between US bases in the Pacific and such flash points as the Gulf.

Adm Prueher, in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies in London, said Indonesia’s authorities had many problems to grapple with and its institutions were weaker than they should be to cope with those problems. “And so I worry about the stresses and strains on the government … Even if all the good decisions are made, there is trouble ahead,” he said.

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