Fri, 07 Mar 2003

Military should listen to bill critics: Minister

Muninggar Sri Saraswati and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In an apparent attempt to end the prolonged debate on the controversial military bill, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the Indonesian Military (TNI) on Thursday to listen to criticism of the bill.

Underlining the utmost importance of laws governing the military's role, the top security minister said the bill must not give any chance for TNI commanders to abuse their powers.

"The bill must stipulate fixed criteria on an emergency situation that allows the military leadership to deploy personnel and that the mobilization is not aimed at toppling an elected government," he said after attending a cabinet meeting presided over by President Megawati Soekarnoputri on Thursday.

Susilo was referring to Article 19 of the bill, allowing the TNI to mobilize soldiers in an emergency without the approval of the president. The most controversial article has sparked strong criticism from numerous sides who say it could be abused to launch a coup against a legitimate government and jeopardize the democracy the nation was trying to develop.

"Both the TNI and its critics should listen to each other during deliberations of the bill, so it will not create misinterpretations," the minister said.

Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil has promised to review the draft law before it is submitted to the House of Representatives, but Army chief Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu rejected the views of the critics, saying they disliked the military.

Analysts believe the article is against the 1945 Constitution that appointed the president as the supreme commander of the military force. They said that according to Law No. 3/2002 on state defense, only the president had the authority to deploy military personnel both at home and overseas (for peace missions).

Susilo further stressed that the TNI should bear in mind that it was part of state apparatus and besides, there was a triumvirate consisting of the defense minister, foreign minister and home minister to take decisions in an emergency if the president was out of reach.

That was why the criteria for the emergency situation and what action could be taken by the military leadership should be inserted in the bill, he said.

Separately, Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a political observer from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) concurred and said that the TNI had to listen to public opinion on the bill.

"The military must be given authority to handle state security but it should not create political problems in the future," he said during a discussion on 68H news radio on Thursday.

Ikrar said that article 19 of the bill must be changed as it could be interpreted in many ways and opened the chance for the TNI to abuse its authority.

Isaac Latuconsina, deputy chairman of the House's Commission I on defense and security, shared Ikrar's view, saying "all contentious articles could be reviewed during its deliberation by the legislative body."