Gus Dur orders major shake-up of TNI officers

Move is believed to be an attempt to undercut any army-led attempts at destabilising the Indonesian leader.

A MAJOR shake-up of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) looks imminent as President Abdurrahman Wahid tries to consolidate his grip over the embattled military.

Defence Minister Mahfud M.D. told The Straits Times yesterday there would be changes “maybe in the next few days”. Mostsignificantly, he said, changes would affect the two most coveted positions in the TNI – the armed forces commander and army chief.

“There will be a reshuffle soon so that new blood can move up the ranks,” he said.

Palace insiders and intelligence sources said the changes, which have been in the offing for months, were likely to have been motivated by political considerations and Mr Abdurrahman’s battle to seize the initiative from his generals.

TNI chief Widodo, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 55, is expected to make way for the current Air Force commander Hanafie Asnan.

Sources said the appointment of Air Chief Marshal Hanafie was in line with Mr Abdurrahman’s attempt to keep the army on the sidelines of power by giving the commander-in-chief’s position to an air force or navy officer.

A presidential adviser said: “Gus Dur continues to be besieged by this notion that the army is harbouring thoughts of overthrowing him through a creeping coup. He is trying his best to undercut its influence.”

The 69-year-old Muslim cleric has been helped by the fact that Admiral Widodo has been less than successful in putting an end to the spate of violence which has rocked Indonesia in recent months.

His links to the former military strongman General Wiranto – who backed his rise to the commander’s position last year – is perceived in the palace as a “negative” with some believing that Admiral Widodo “suffers from a dual loyalty”.

That might explain why Mr Abdurrahman has decided to replace General Tyasno who, sources said that while “he is very much an independent political player in the army, is still coloured by links to former president Suharto”.

The second most senior job in the armed forces is likely to go to the current deputy army chief Endriartono Sutarto who represents the TNI’s mainstream faction. Lt-Gen Endriartono is said to be a “compromise candidate” from among at least five choices discussed for the position.

Mr Abdurrahman is believed to have favoured the chief of the Army Strategic Reserve Command, Ryamizard Ryacudu, or even the radical reformer Agus Wirahidikusumah.

Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri, on the other hand, seems more inclined towards the territorial affairs chief Agus Widjoyo. In between these political favourites, are several generals from the army’s big middle group, which includes Lt-Gen Endriartono.

Mr Mahfud said there would also be a new military intelligence chief. Sources said Maj-Gen Sihombing was tipped to take over from Vice-Air Marshal Ian Santoso who would now head the air force.

Changes are also likely in the State Coordinating Body for Intelligence.

Lt-Gen Arie Kumaat, regarded widely as a “Wirantoist” is expected to make way for either the Forestry Ministry’s secretary-general Suripto or Mr Abdurrahman’s controversial intelligence adviser Djuanda – both are leading candidates for the post.

A presidential aide said: “He (Mr Abdurrahman) has not been getting accurate intelligence which is controlled by army officers whose loyalty to Gus Dur continues to be in doubt. He is playing musical chairs to bring in loyalists and sideline his opponents.”

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