Thu, 11 May 2000

The problem of private armies

The raid by members of the Barisan Ansor Serbaguna (Banser) against the Jawa Pos newspaper in Surabaya during the past week has put the spotlight not only on the phenomenon of trial by the masses, it focuses our attention on yet another problem: that of civilians emulating the military. Almost all the major political parties in this country maintain such (quasi-military) groups.

In the past, political parties, which had reason to doubt the independent status of the Indonesian Armed Forces, had reason to set up such units. Ostensibly, they were set up to maintain their party's internal security, though occasionally they were used to intimidate others through force.

At present, while our legitimate military forces are expected to better respect civilian values, civilians are acting like real soldiers, forgetting that they are civilians. They display military attributes and martial symbols before the public in threatening demonstrations of force.

We are presently in the midst of a movement to correct old mistakes. The public, including our political parties, must adopt the habit of relying on our official law enforcement agencies -- that is, our military and police. Only by doing so can we help speed the process of promoting professionalism within the military. And only in this way can we begin to establish the kind of civilian supremacy to which we all aspire.

-- Media Indonesia, Jakarta