Mon, 22 Dec 2003

Police-military repeated clashes: The untolf and unsettled old problems

Imanuddin Razak, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Clashes among security officers have occurred repeatedly in the country in the past few years. Maybe this is why there was scant attention given to the latest incident between police and military personnel in West Kalimantan on Dec. 9, that took the life of one soldier.

Apart from the West Kalimantan incident, there were at least four such cases reported this year. More clashes went unreported due to closed-door settlements among the disputing parties or simply the media's failure to reveal them.

So frequent are the clashes among the security forces that no one bothers anymore to question the officers' violent behavior. This propensity for violence has long led to anxiety and instability, while their very role is to protect the people.

Some observers and officers have blamed the laws concerning the separation of the police from the military for the officers' inclination to violence, saying the law should be reviewed.

Scholars such as Henk Schulte Nordholt traces the roots of violence in the country to the pre-colonial era, which continues to today.

Media reports have revealed that many times the clashes among the security officers were triggered by petty causes, such as unintended physical contact between a police officer and a soldier while dancing at a discotheque, or two officers competing for the heart of one woman.

The dispute would often be individual in origin, but then solidarity later played a part, fueling the problem as both individuals would spread his version to his colleagues, mobilizing them into retaliatory action.

Another simple triggering factor was the one that occurred on Flores island, East Nusa Tenggara province, in May this year when a police officer died in a brawl following a violent soccer match against a military unit team there.

There have also been more fundamental reasons behind such clashes.

It is a public secret that rivalry between both legal and illegal businesses have frequently triggered clashes among units in the military or between military units and police units.

Some owners of entertainment centers in Kota area, West Jakarta, have repeatedly complained of being the target of multiple illegal fees taken by the police, the military and even the local administration. Failure to pay the fees to any one of the above mentioned units would result in their centers being the subject of raids and even destruction.

And often new players (in this case new military or police chiefs assigned to the area) have collected fees without the knowledge of other old players. This would eventually lead to a clash as the old players would feel their "rights" were violated.

Another factor is the protection rackets of the police and the military.

A good example would be the September 2002 clashes between police and military officers in Binjai, North Sumatra, in which eight were killed between the two forces. It was reported that the military unit attacked a police station that was holding a suspected drug dealer. Military personnel are known to protect the drug trade in some provinces.

However, while factors that trigger the clashes could perhaps be identified, efforts to settle such problems are sometimes difficult due to the attitude of the superiors of the disputing officers themselves.

Police and military institutions naturally have clear-cut disciplinary and operational guidelines that all troops must obey, otherwise they will face stiff sanctions.

In many cases, the troops do report to their superiors that they are having problems with other units of the military or police. But rather than going to the root of the problem and settling it wisely, the superiors often get emotional and even order their subordinates to take up arms and attack the opposing unit.

It is now high time for the police and the military to develop curricula in their respective academies, mainly in the area of their skills and capability to quietly win battles without a single bullet fired and without bloodshed.

It's also time to stop the condoning of engagement of active military or police officers in any kind of business, legal or illegal, as such involvement has proved to be a potential trigger of often lethal disputes among the security officers themselves.

There should of course be measures taken to compensate the officers, if their businesses are one day put to a halt. But in any case the decision is not for the military or police alone to decide.

The police and military should heed the words of the highest commander of the Indonesian Military (TNI) President Megawati Soekarnoputri: "Only with good morals can you achieve admirable leadership ..." Addressing the graduation ceremony of 816 police and military cadets on Friday at Merdeka Palace, she reiterated that the country badly needs strong and professional officers to defend the country's sovereignty and unity.

That goal is far from attainable as long as soldiers and police officers are busy fighting and killing one another.