Tue, 08 Feb 2000

Army responsible for Maluku riots: Tamrin

JAKARTA (JP): The continuing conflict in Maluku falls into line with the Army's struggle to protect its political and economic interests following the end of the New Order regime, a member of reconciliatory team in the territory says.

Tamrin Amal Tomagola, who is also a sociologist from the University of Indonesia, told The Jakarta Post recently, that the settlement of the year-long fighting in Maluku and North Maluku provinces could be settled, to some extent, if the government could take a full control over the armed forces.

"Maluku unrest is a combination of dispute among local political elites and a conflict pitting the Army against the pro- democratic movement," he said.

The renewed clashes in Ambon, Ternate and Halmahera, which exploded only two days after Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Gen. Wiranto were summoned and questioned by the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations (KPP HAM) in East Timor on Dec. 24 last year, underlined the close link of rioting in Maluku with the Army's moves for survival, according to Tamrin.

"It's suspicious that when Wiranto was summoned on Dec. 24, unrest erupted on Dec. 26 in three different areas of Ambon, Ternate and Halmahera all at once," he said.

Wiranto was former Army chief of staff and head of Indonesian Military (TNI).

Tamrin, a native of Halmahera, warned of a domino effect that would destroy the eastern part of Indonesia if the Maluku violence remained unabated.

To support his hypothesis, he said his review of unrest that has rocked the country over the last four years revealed that 80 percent of the riots occurred in provinces where military commands were absent, including Maluku.

"The Army needs to maintain its territorial grip now that it faces mounting pressures to leave their sociopolitical role," he said.

The government reduced military commands to only 10 in the early 1980s, when the Army was led by Rudini.

During the 32-year reign of former president Soeharto, the Army received privileges to build a vast business empire nationwide, according to Tamrin. The Army's business was supported by the New Order's civilian bureaucracy.

In the wake of the reform era, the Army was put under pressure to pull out of its non-military practices, including business and politics, he said.

"Every time Soeharto and the Army are troubled, riots erupt. There is an obvious correlation between the two things," he said.

Specters of violence have jolted Ambon and North Maluku the past year, claiming thousands of lives.

The conflict initially hit Ambon on Jan. 19, 1999. Many speculated that it was a continuation of bloodshed in Ketapang, Central Jakarta in which 18 Ambonese were killed.

Tamrin said that even if the Army did not fuel the unrest, its intelligence officers might have known of the potential conflict when it could have been prevented.

"They twist a national dispute into local conflicts and tell the people that they are sectarian matters," he said.

The Army seeks to benefit from the prolonged conflict between people of different sectarian groups in a bid to strengthen its territorial grip.

"Because of riots, they can justify sending more troops. Now there are 16 battalions in Central Maluku and six in North Maluku. The more troops the more reason to upgrade an area's military status," he said.

The Pattimura Military Command in Maluku was reinstated last year.

Tamrin said all data on the involvement of army personnel had been collected and had been submitted to President Abdurrahman Wahid, Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Amien Rais and speaker of the House of Representative (DPR) Akbar Tandjung. (emf)