Indonesian military gets new chief in big reshuffle

THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri) yesterday announced a major reshuffle of high-ranking officers, naming current army chief Wiranto as its new commander, while President Suharto called on the military to crack down on groups out to destabilise the country.

General Wiranto, a 50-year-old Yogjakarta-born Javanese Muslim, will replace current Abri chief Feisal Tanjung on Monday. The deputy army chief, Lieutenant-General Subagyo Hadisiswoyo, will move up to fill Gen Wiranto’s post in the army.

Gen Feisal, whose term in the top military post was extended by the President when he reached the retirement age of 55 three years ago, announced the changes at a press conference.

The outgoing military chief declined to comment on his future but high-level Abri sources told The Straits Times that he was being tipped for the post of Defence Minister, or Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs, in the new Cabinet, which will take office after next month’s presidential election.

In an address earlier yesterday to senior military commanders at the the end of two-day annual meeting here, Mr Suharto urged them to boost Abri’s readiness to deal with increasing social unrest across the country.

For a second consecutive day, he accused groups of trying to undermine his government. He did not name any group, but senior military figures have been referring to the banned People’s Democratic Party as being behind the moves to whip up unrest.

Gen Feisal told reporters that the 475,000-strong military was “alert and ready” to meet any contingencies that might arise in the run-up to the meeting of the 1,000-member People’s Consultative Assembly, which will elect a president and vice-president.

He also took the opportunity to disclose other high-level changes in Abri which would take effect after the presidential poll, in what analysts see as Mr Suharto’s plan to “anoint” loyalists to key positions.

Many of the officers promoted had served the President before at some point in their military career.

Mr Suharto’s son-in-law, Major-General Prabowo Subianto, would be promoted from head of the Special Forces to lead the 27,000-strong Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad).

The current Kostrad chief, Lt-Gen Sugiyono, will take over Lt-Gen Subagyo’s post as deputy army chief. Both have served in the presidential security guard.

Another rising star and former presidential adjutant, Major-General Bambang Yudhoyono, will receive his third star and be appointed as Abri’s chief of socio-political affairs.

Senior Abri sources described the latest reshuffle as part of a “regeneration process” in the military establishment that will see younger and better-educated, often foreign-trained officers, moving up.

Many graduated from the military academy in the early 1970s and represent a new wave of professionalism in Abri.

Gen Feisal, responding to questions on whether the officers were being promoted because of their close links to Mr Suharto, stressed yesterday that the officers had been moved up because they were capable.

“I can assure you that they have all risen to the top due to merit and nothing else,” he said.

The last five years have been a period of tumultuous change in Abri, with various waves of personnel changes, involving more than 100 officers every year.

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