Get tough, Habibie tells Abri

At Abri’s 53rd anniversary, he warns again of threat posed by radicals out to destroy the reform process.

PRESIDENT B. J. Habibie yesterday called on the powerful armed forces (Abri) to adjust its political role and crack down on “radicals and revolutionaries” hampering Indonesia’s reform process.

Speaking at Abri’s 53rd anniversary celebrations here, he warned of impending security challenges in the months ahead which needed the military to be on the alert and to act decisively.

“Slowly, a trend is beginning to emerge among some small groups in society that shows the emergence of seeds of a radical and revolutionary movement which claims to speak and act for the reform movement.

“The actions of these radicals and revolutionaries have the potential to be destructive, disintegrative and unconstitutional,” he said.

This was Dr Habibie’s second call over the last week to military leaders to take a proactive stance against the movement’s “violent” activities which, he said, could drag the already battered economy further downhill.

Protests have been mounting for the newly-appointed President to step down. His critics charge that his appointment was unconstitutional.

Abri chief General Wiranto said last week that such demonstrations and security disturbances mirrored the tactics employed by the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

The President did not name any group in his speech. Analysts and diplomats, however, believe that he was referring to the National Front – an association of retired generals, officials and ex-Golkar leaders – reportedly supporting a 40-day campaign by student activists to topple him.

Dr Habibie, in his first parade as Abri Supreme Commander, presided over a rather low-scale anniversary celebration compared to the pomp and military muscle of past parades.

The early morning showers did little to lift the sombre mood of an organisation whose legitimacy is at its lowest ebb in 30 years.

And as the military celebrated its birthday in East Jakarta, more than 50 demonstrators under the watchful eyes of military personnel gathered at the Jalan Thamrin stretch with placards that read: “Goodbye Abri” and “The end of dwifungsi”.

The President told the top brass, which included Gen Wiranto and the army, navy, air force and police chiefs, that Abri should not be fixated on “past traumas”. It should move ahead and seek to reform itself.

“Abri needs to free itself from the past paradigm and find a new one,” he said. “It needs to redefine and reposition itself in society to meet the challenges of the future.”

The army, in particular, had for the last 30 years relied on the “security paradigm” where force was used to settle political scores with state opponents and quell unrests.

This led to numerous military excesses and explains Abri’s tattered image now.

Dr Habibie maintained, however, that the security approach was still needed but at “a more proportional level” to allow democracy to flourish without any obstacles. “For pure democracy to take form and develop, law and social order must also be upheld,” he said.

He added that the current economic and political situation was not stable and could encourage people to “fish in murky waters”.

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