Tue, 18 Apr 2000

Kopassus told to win back public support

JAKARTA (JP): The Army's Special Force (Kopassus) must be more open to criticism if it wants to regain the public esteem and support it once enjoyed, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Tyasno Sudarto said on Monday.

"Kopassus must be more receptive to criticism. Its presence is still needed and, therefore, it must correct itself in order to be loved and become close to the people," Tyasno said in a low- key ceremony marking the elite force's 48th anniversary at its Cijantung Headquarters in East Jakarta.

The anniversary comes as the force's reputation is at an all- time low, tarnished by charges it was responsible for widespread human rights abuses in recent years.

Among the VIPs in the grandstand were former Indonesian Military chiefs Try Sutrisno, Edi Sudradjat, Feisal Tanjung and Wiranto, and former Kopassus chiefs Wismoyo Arismunandar, Tarub and Lt. Gen. Agum Gumelar.

Tyasno said the force's personnel should continue their intensive training activities to improve their professionalism and correct their behavior in order to win the people's respect."

"Kopassus should be discerning in taking the criticism because some of it was made with the intention to discredit the Army while some of it was because of the people's affection for the elite force."

Once highly regarded for its success in numerous military operations, Kopassus' credibility was undermined by reports of many human rights violations in Aceh, Irian Jaya, East Timor and Jakarta.

Eleven Kopassus soldiers were convicted last year for their involvement in the abduction of prodemocracy activists between 1996 and 1998 in Jakarta. Former Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) chief Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto, now in Jordan, was discharged from military service for responsibility in the abductions.

Former Kopassus chief Maj. Gen. Muchdi P. and Kopassus' 81 detachment Col. Chairawan, who were allegedly involved in the case, have been demoted as senior and middle-ranking officers at Army Headquarters without any portfolio.

Kopassus chief Maj. Sjahrir M.S. said the Army was conducting an evaluation on whether it was necessary to revamp the elite force's organization and reduce the number of its personnel, currently numbering 6,000.

"The evaluation is still going on," he said after the ceremony.

Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono, who also attended the ceremony, said recently that the number of Kopassus personnel would be reduced to 5,300. (rms)