Troops stay in tent cities to boost security


For the 30,000 soldiers deployed in the capital to ensure that the special People’s Consultative Assembly session proceeds smoothly, life in the makeshift tents can be a bore – or it can be fun, depending on their background. DERWIN PEREIRA of the Foreign Desk reports from Jakarta

TENT cities have sprung up in different parts of Jakarta.

These little green enclaves, slightly smaller than a two-room Housing Board flat and with 30 men in each, crowd Indonesia’s national monument, Monas, near the presidential palace.

Others dot the city’s business district and particularly parliament where the country’s highest legislative body meets today for a four-day special session.

Pockets of soldiers – normally four to six – armed with light assault weapons and M-16 rifles stand at road intersections.

Many also guard several buildings, particularly banks and shopping malls.

The army has come to town – altogether 30,000 troops from all over Indonesia to ensure the special session proceeds smoothly.

Take a walk through Monas and one finds strongholds of soldiers from Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra and Sulawesi, occupying different parts of the expansive field in groups of 30 to 100.

Soldiers snoozing under bridges while others stand guard are common sights.

Some like Corporal Suparno have been here for three months and he keeps counting the days before he can return to his wife and 11-month-old baby in Central Java.

The 35-year-old policeman from the elite Mobile Brigade, one of the few units to be in the frontline to confront demonstrators, is already feeling the pressures of protracted guard duty.

“You can say that I am a day and night watchman,” he said, adding: “I am on standby 24 hours a day and I don’t know how long this will last.

“After the MPR there will be the general election and presidential election next year. I might be here forever.”

Boredom is a common phenomenon for Cpl Suparno and friends who camp near barbed wires to prevent protesters from getting into the parliament compound.

They pass the time by singing and dancing to popular Indonesian folk music.

Others have turned to more regimented forms of leisure.

Lieutenant Adhi S.R. from the Marines said he takes his 100 soldiers for morning runs.

He also gives them lessons in stress management.

Not all though are complaining.

Some are in fact enjoying their stint in the capital.

Said Cpl Basuki Rachmat from East Java: “All my ex-girlfriends are here. Every night I dream of them. It’s not so bad after all.”

Food is a thorny issue for most of them.

Each soldier on duty gets 7,500 rupiah (S$1.50) for three meals and some complain this is not enough given the spiralling food costs.

Many make do with instant noodles for breakfast and nasi goreng or ketoprak (steamed rice wrapped in banana leaves) and curried vegetables later in the day.

Said Sergeant Supharjono from the police traffic control unit: “See all these demonstrators?

“Some of them get paid and fed by people to create havoc. And we soldiers work all day with no extra pay and no extra food.”

The men insist that they have been trained properly in rules of engagement when facing rowdy demonstrators.

Cpl Pairun, 50, said they would fire three warning shots in the air if protesters started to get violent.

“If they ignore this and threaten the lives of soldiers, we will have to shoot at them in self-defence,” he said.

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