‘Army elements behind violence’

Indonesian Defence Minister says some anti-reform generals with links to Suharto are fostering violence to destabilise the civilian government.

Defence Minister Mahfud M.D. yesterday conceded that army elements were behind the spate of violence in Indonesia to destabilise the government.

He said that the problems in outlying provinces like Aceh and Maluku and the recent explosions in the capital were the doing of generals linked to former president Suharto.

“I believe these officers stand to lose a lot if there is political and economic reform in the country,” he told The Straits Times in an interview on the eve of the Indonesian military’s, 55th anniversary.

“They are engaging in ‘military terrorism’. They want to fight reform by resorting to covert means to undermine the government.”

Mr Mahfud, who was only appointed to his defence portfolio in August, maintained, however, that the TNI as an institution did not support what was being carried out by “rogue elements” in the army.

He was quick to point out that the conservative faction represented a minority in the TNI. Most of the other generals, he added, belonged to the mainstream group that served to “neutralise” the actions of the hardliners.

“They agree with the reform drive, but want it to be carried out gradually,” he said. “But they do not sanction the use of force to grab political power.”

He warned that despite doctrinal changes in the embattled armed forces to withdraw from politics, the military as a whole could “lash back in an unexpected way without any consideration of the risks involved” if it continued to be pushed into a corner.

“The likelihood of a coup d’etat is extremely slim but it is still a possibility if people keep whacking an institution that is extremely proud of its past as a saviour of Indonesia,” he said.

“We need to be aware that their fear of being persistently criticised will disappear at a certain point and their self-worth will return. They will feel that they have the right to defend themselves.”

He took pains to point out that the military’s past misdeeds were the “collective responsibility” of all Indonesians. “The misdeeds were the consequences of our former corrupt system and mistakes which were the errors of individuals and rogue soldiers.”

Mr Mahfud’s comments on the possible involvement of army elements in the recent violence appear to be a bit of a backtracking from his earlier controversial statements where he said foreign spies were inciting problems in the country. But he maintained that Western countries like the United States and Australia stood the most to benefit from Indonesia’s crippling problems.

“The more disasters we face, the easier it is for them to control our destiny,” he said.

“Control does not need to take the form of the direct involvement of foreign intelligence officers. But I continue to believe they are meddling in our internal affairs in one way or another.”

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