Gus Dur tries to heal rift with the military

President’s overtures are viewed with suspicion, however, as he still appears to favour calling state of emergency

President Abdurrahman Wahid held out an olive branch to hawkish generals of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) yesterday, assuring them he had no plans for a major military shake-up.

But any hopes of healing the rift with the top brass appeared unlikely to be realised as senior officers prepared to dig in their heels for a protracted confrontation with the 60-year-old leader, who reportedly still harbours thoughts of imposing a state of emergency.

After a week of persistent rumours here that army chief Endriartono Sutarto would be sacked, the President yesterday summoned Coordinating Security Minister Bambang Yudhoyono, TNI chief A.S. Widodo and the three service chiefs to the palace.

At that meeting, Mr Abdurrahman stressed that he had no wish to replace any of them. “The President said that there was no plan to replace the TNI leadership, especially the army and navy commanders,” retired General Bambang told reporters. Palace insiders said the generals refrained from displaying any hostility towards Mr Abdurrahman who, since assuming the presidency 19 months ago, was seen to be regularly interfering in internal military affairs and moving to sideline the TNI’s once-dominant political role.

The military’s frustration grew more acute after the President, angered by the army’s refusal to support his idea for a state of emergency, contemplated sacking Gen Endriartono.

Senior officers had also warned Mr Abdurrahman repeatedly that they would not support him in his confrontation with Parliament.

Tensions escalated over the weekend when Gen Endriartono told troops that they should be loyal to the nation and not any single individual – a clear reference to Mr Abdurrahman, constitutionally the military’s supreme commander.

Analysts said that with legislators threatening to impeach him, he could not afford to widen the rift with the military. Well-placed sources said that, at the meeting, he expressed his “disappointment” with the TNI for not signalling Parliament that the military backed him, or that it supported extra-parliamentary measures to keep him in power.

“He was not happy. But this time he appeared less confrontational and was prepared to accept that the TNI could not take sides openly. He can’t afford to fight too many flanks,” a general said.

Mr Abdurrahman is heading for another showdown with legislators next week – when they are likely to call for impeachment proceedings against him.

TNI sources said that although he pledged not to remove Gen Endriartono, signals were still coming from the palace of replacements being considered.

In private discussions with aides, Mr Abdurrahman has also still insisted on declaring a state of emergency to hold on to power.

The Straits Times understands that 70 to 80 per cent of officers ranked brigadier-general and above believe he is a political liability for Indonesia, and support a Megawati presidency.

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