Thu, 20 Nov 2003

Pushing the military to the wall imprudent policy

Ardimas Sasdi, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Berkeley, California

A statement from Indonesia Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto on Monday that the military would withdraw from its traditional murky business of guarding mining sites in the country showed nothing, but the military has been pushed to the limit by negative news portraying it as a mercenary force and has no other choice but to defend itself.

In the remark, which is likely to rattle the confidence of investors in an already gloomy investment climate, Endriartono said he would pull troops out of vital projects in areas across the country, including out of PT Freeport Indonesia (FI) copper and gold mine in Papua, but stopped short on when the pullout would begin.

Endriartono said that security duties there were "not part of our main tasks" and in future the mining firms would be responsible for security in their operational areas as the military "do not wish to become a scapegoat should something happen to the companies".

The remark of the general, who always appears coolheaded in answering straight forward questions from journalists, led us to a conclusion that the military can no longer take the cynicism directed against his institution over human rights abuses from domestic and foreign parties, including the latest move by U.S. congressmen linking the military with the Timika incident in August last year. And it has nothing to do with a plan by the military to quit the "protection" racket business as part of a program to rid itself of diversified businesses, which includes real estate, transportation and logging.

Tough talking Army Chief Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu said on Tuesday that he was ready to withdraw his troops guarding mining projects in the country, mostly operated by foreign companies, but he has yet to receive a written order from TNI headquarters.

Military troops have been guarding vital projects since the Soeharto era and were believed to have received money for the "protection" services. But the problem of the payment money exploded in 2002 when Freeport, one of whose directors is former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, inserted the spending in a formal document, which upset its shareholders, some of whom are members of a teachers' union. And the TNI acknowledged that some 1,800 troops are being stationed at 12 mining sites across the country, but the actual figure is likely to be much higher.

Foreign and local media reported earlier this year that PT FI, a subsidiary of the Texas based Freeport McMoran, spent US$5.6 million on the security of its employees and mining sites in Papua in 2002. The reports said the money was disbursed to pay for TNI soldiers' lodgings, fuel, travel and military vehicle repairs. Some $400,000 of the amount was used to build support facilities. FI said it spent $4.7 million in 2001 on payments for the services of 2,300 security personnel.

Since the formal separation of the police force from the military based on Law No. 3/2002 on state defense, internal security affairs, including duties to guard vital installations, is the responsibility of the police. But with around 200,000 personnel the police, already stretched thin to cover all areas in the country, simply do not have enough manpower to do the job. A sudden withdrawal of military soldiers from the mining areas will cause worry among mining firms as it will create security problems, especially in Papua where there is a low-level rebel movement and in strife-torn Aceh province.

The U.S. government has maintained an embargo on export of weapons and spare parts to Indonesia for rights abuses in East Timor in 1999. Washington, under pressure from members of the Congress and Senate, has also withheld assistance to TNI for military training unless it cooperates fully with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in a probe into an ambush by armed men that killed two Americans and one Indonesian at the Freeport mining site in Timika in August last year.

The military denies involvement in the incident.

The following are steps Indonesia and the U.S. can take against the TNI if it refuses to cooperate in the probe. First, continue the Timika investigation with or without TNI cooperation and impose sanctions against the institution if there is strong evidence that soldiers were involved in the incident. However, this move is quite risky judging from the tough stance of the military on the case. Second, earmark enough funding to the TNI and raise salaries of soldiers so that in the future the institution does not take illicit funding from other sources, which will at last erode its loyalty to the state. Third, design a "face saving" scheme to appease the anger of the U.S senators without further irritating TNI leaders.

The statement of Gen. Ryamizard as quoted by Detikcom newsportal on Tuesday that foreign forces and their agents were working to create instability in Indonesia is a move by the military to turn this case into an issue of nationalism. The military is an expert in this strategy. So for the time being it seems there is no workable alternative on luring the military to cooperate in the Timika case, but to stop pushing the military to the wall as the repercussions are very big for the country at this juncture, especially with instability in some areas and elections in 2004.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.