BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home    March news

"in East Timor in the late 1990s, TMI [Indonesian army] did not hesitate to equip and lead paramilitary forces that inflicted a reign of terror on a population seeking independence from Indonesia. ... When Habibie angered Wiranto and other army commanders by agreeing to a referendum over independence in east Timor, they retaliated by unleashing a wave of terror within East Timor." Martin Sieff, Senior News Analyst, United Press International

Received via TAPOL.

[This writer throughout refers to the Indonesian armed forces with the initials TMI. This should of course be TNI. TAPOL]

United Press International

March 6, 2001

Analysis: Army key to Indonesia's power

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst


   Indonesia's top generals sent a message written in the blood of slaughtered Madurese civilians to President Abdurrahman Wahid last week, "You do not rule Indonesia,  we do."

   Common to the reports of the ethnic slaughter of more than 100 Madurese colonists at the hands of indigenous Dayak tribesmen in central Borneo was one persistent pattern. The forces of TMI, the Armed Forces of Indonesia, who had overwhelming firepower in Borneo's Central Kalamantan province where the massacres took place, sat back and did nothing.

   Like the famous Sherlock Holmes story, "Silver Blaze," which involved a dog that did not bark in the night, this unaccustomed passivity of TMI was the most striking aspect of the massacres.

   Some experts on Indonesia suggested that the army was inhibited because of its respect for the martial prowess of the Dayaks. Until only decades ago, they were practicing headhunters. And they have shown formidable guerrilla abilities in the recent past.

   In the mid-1960s, Britain's Special Air Services trained and worked with the Dayaks during the fierce military confrontation that then-Indonesian President Suharto had provoked against neighboring democratic Malaysia, and the Indonesians got by far the worst of it.

   But TMI's generals have other, more politically compelling reasons for their restraint. And the prospects for revenge and the paying back of old grudges would have been attractive to its leaders if they felt confrontation with the Dayaks was necessary.

   Also, in East Timor in the late 1990s, TMI did not hesitate to equip and lead paramilitary forces that inflicted a reign of terror on a population seeking independence from Indonesia.

   And the guiding ideology of TMI's entire army officer corps since the establishment of the Indonesian state has been its mission to keep the giant nation together -- by hook or by crook.

   It is widely believed in insider political circles in Jakarta that the army's leaders are sitting on the sidelines over the Borneo clashes. Many believe that they intend to use this ethnic violence to finally push Wahid out of office, after similarly stirring up ethnic conflict between Muslims and fundamentalist Christians in the Molucca Islands of east-central Indonesia.

   Wahid thought he could outmaneuver the army's leaders and force it out of its traditional political role as the arbiter of internal national security when he took power a year and a half ago.

   He did indeed force out the army's top political leader, Defense Minister Gen. Wiranto, out of office. And in his place, as head of the armed forces, he appointed Adm. Widodo Adi Sutjipto. It was the first time in Indonesia's history that any officer from the small, ill-funded, much despised navy had been given the top job.

   The soft-spoken, politically sophisticated Javanese aristocrats who dominated the army's officer classes were left out in the cold,. To make matters worse, they had to report to Widodo, the humbly born son of provincial schoolteachers.

   But the ploy did not work. Running TMI has always been a matter of being chairman of the board of a complex, decentralized corporation with many quasi-independent commands, especially the feared and ruthless Kopassus Special Forces. Operational command has remained with the army's generals and Widodo and Wahid's Cabinet have never managed to achieve more than formal
authority over them.

   Well more than 40,000 Madurese have fled their homes in Kalimantan, especially from the town of Sampit. And TMI's reluctance to take any serious action to ensure their safety has already led to popular outcries. But Wahid, touring Africa when the crisis broke, has refused to come home early to deal with it and has unsuccessfully tried to play it down.

   Wahid has claimed that media reports of death and destruction on Sampit were exaggerated. But this has only backfired on him, further reducing the already low esteem in which he was held.

   During the long, 32-year rule of Suharto, when the army effectively ran Indonesia as it saw fit, order, if not law, reigned in Borneo. In fact it was the collapse of order in the riots and massacres of 1997 that signaled the deterioration and collapse of Suharto's regime.

   But now, the army is standing back, allowing violence in Borneo to escalate, just as it stood back over the past year and pointedly refrained from cracking down on the ethnic clashes in the Molucca Islands.

   Wahid, therefore, is being undermined by the refusal of the army command to cooperate with him, just as his predecessor Habibie was.

   When Habibie angered Wiranto and other army commanders by agreeing to a referendum over independence in east Timor, they retaliated by unleashing a wave of terror within East Timor.

   Then, the army commanders sought to undermine Habibie by being too active. In Borneo, they appear to be trying to undermine Wahid by not being active enough.

   Habibie fell because he failed on three fronts simultaneously. He failed to create any effective partnership with the army. He failed to make any dent in Indonesia's horrendous economic crisis. And he was rejected by popular opinion, especially by millions of unemployed young people on the teeming home island of Java.

   Now Wahid has signally failed in all three areas as strikingly as Habibie did. And the army generals who intrigued successfully to topple Habibie look like being successful in their efforts to get rid of him, too.

   But while no civilian political leader can rule Indonesia without the help of the army, the army cannot rule without them either. Wahid, like Habibie, proved unwilling to govern on the army's terms. Wahid's most likely successor, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, has shown herself even more determined not to compromise with the army command.

   As long as the army's generals and the top political leaders in Jakarta remain deadlocked, the vast ruthless game of political chess across the checkerboard map of Indonesia will continue. And vulnerable populations, like the Madurese colonists in Borneo, will remain helpless pawns to sacrificed.

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign
111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Croydon CR7 8HW, UK.
tel +44 020 8771 2904 fax +44 020 8653 0322
TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign

Defending victims of oppression in Indonesia and East Timor, 1973-2001
TAPOL - which means political prisoner in Indonesian - is a leading English language authority campaigning on the human rights situation in Indonesia and East Timor. Estab in 1973, TAPOL has depended on networking with organisations in Indonesia, with NGOs in the UK and with solidarity groups around the world. TAPOL produces the bi-monthly TAPOL Bulletin; occasional reports and briefing papers and other publications.
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See also:

Mar 5 SMH: Militia chief's new role confirms Indon army ties  News
"The information is alarming on two counts: it confirms that the militias and the Indonesian military intelligence apparatus are one and the same; it also goes some way towards explaining the difficulty for Jakarta in trying to disband the militias." Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Kupang, West Timor

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