More Abri regional commands to handle unrest

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

The armed forces will increase its territorial commands from 10 to 17 across the provinces, prompted by rising ethnic and religious clashes.

THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri) plans to increase its military commands from 10 to 17 to meet rising unrest in the outlying provinces.

The Antara national news agency yesterday quoted army chief Subagyo Hadisiswoyo as saying that the restructuring of the territorial commands that stretch across the 27 provinces in the vast archipelago could be completed by 2006.

General Subagyo made the announcement at the inauguration of the Pattimura command in the eastern province of Maluku, the first of the seven additional areas of military operations Abri hopes to establish.

The territorial commands provide a control structure right down to village level, backed by supporting units.

This gives a framework for nationwide command in the event of external conflict, local community linkages for internal security and an intelligence network for political control.

Analysts said the latest move was guided more by the wave of ethnic and religious clashes to hit Indonesia over the last year, with senior Abri officers worried that if there was no tight control, the country could break up.

They point to the new Pattimura command as one example of how the military can better deploy its 500,000 troops.

Maluku’s capital of Ambon and several islands in that province have been hit by clashes between Muslim and Christian groups that have killed more than 300 people since January.

Up until now, the Trikora military command in the neighbouring province of Irian Jaya oversaw security in the Maluku area. Soldiers also had to be flown in from the Hasanuddin command in South Sulawesi.

Abri says that this resulted in late troop deployments and logistic problems.

A similar rationale is being adopted for the other commands it plans to establish in the outer island provinces – those that have experienced a rash of violence and others the government plans to “break up” to grant more autonomy.

The Straits Times understands that there is likely to be two new commands in Irian Jaya, two in Kalimantan and two in Maluku.

There might also be an additional one in North Sumatra, given problems in the restive province of Aceh.

Insiders said that linked to the upsurge in violence, the increase in area commands was a “defensive mechanism” should the latest attempt at granting greater autonomy collapse.

Others, however, believed that the move was tied to Abri increasing its leverage over a civilian government and bureaucracyspearheaded by modernist Muslim leaders like President B. J. Habibie and members of the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI).

A retired general noted that Abri chief Wiranto’s strategy was aimed at “striking a balance of power with the elite in Jakarta”.

He said that if the plan went through, Abri would continue to play a critical role in influencing the political process right down to grassroots level.

The civilian elite appears to have endorsed the plan but with a political quid pro quo in mind. Indeed, it was one of the baits offered by Dr Habibie and ICMI to get the military to back the incumbent and Golkar in next month’s general election.

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