Thu, 11 May 2000

Past abuses of the military being stamped out: Juwono

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono said on Wednesday that abuses by the military were slowly being stamped out, but warned that such efforts would take time.

When asked if he believed intelligence units and rogue elements of the Army might be behind recent unrest, Juwono conceded that such practices were an historical legacy which needed to be addressed.

"Yes, it is an inheritance of the past which I am still trying to overcome," he announced after attending a Cabinet meeting at Bina Graha presidential office.

"Many are washing their hands of it (past military abuses) now ... I will wash the dishes now," he remarked, implying a possible overhaul of the military.

He said that part of the overhaul would be placing the Indonesian Military under the defense ministry and also the possibility of setting up a supervisory institution to supervise intelligence operations.

"We are still revising the 1982 law on defense and security ... and maybe within two or three years the military will be placed under the defense ministry," Juwono said.

Many believe the Army was in the past exploited by former president Soeharto to suppress dissidents, leading to a number of human rights abuses.

Last year's violence in East Timor and military atrocities committed during a decade-long antirebel operation in the troubled province of Aceh are among a number of high-profile cases currently being investigated.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Tyasno Sudarto delivered last month an apology to the nation for "Army troops' past mistakes" and pledged such actions would not be repeated in the future.

Tyasno's statement at the time came only days after the Indonesian Military (TNI)'s top brass met to map out the organization's future, with promises of abandoning its sociopolitical role and concentrating solely on defense affairs.

Juwono on Wednesday again acknowledged the abuses, particularly by the Army.

"In the past there were many abuses that were primarily perpetrated by the Army as a result of the excessive implementation of the military's sociopolitical role," he said.

"We are trying to reduce it gradually and military and police personnel must now be held accountable for their conduct, and comply with the law," he added.

When asked to comment on President Abdurrahman Wahid's allegation last week that ex-military officers in Jakarta were behind the ongoing violence in Aceh, Juwono said the case "is still being studied" by the military top brass.

"These former military officers are suspected of financing a series of riots," Juwono said without elaborating.

When again asked to comment on suggestions that deserters of the elite Army Special Force (Kopassus) were involved in the Aceh violence, Juwono said: "We are now dealing with the impact of the too fast development of Kopassus."

He again did not elaborate but said he would try "to fix things up" by, among other things, reducing the number of Kopassus personnel.

Juwono said recently that the number of Kopassus personnel would be reduced to 5,300 from some 6,000. (byg)