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Indonesia's territorial integrity and the TNI's role in crushing separatism

3 June, 2003

As the war in Aceh enters its third week and military operations in the Central Highlands in Papua intensify, it is timely to put these developments into a broader context and take a look at the well-documented plans of the Indonesian armed forces, the TNI, to reassert their role in political and security affairs, a move frequently referred to as their 'miitary comeback'.

Since Megawati Sukarnoputri took over as President in July 2001, replacing Abdurrahman Wahid who had tried to push for reform of the military - ultimately, the cause of his downfall - the Indonesian armed forces have succeeded in building a common front with the country's political elite, the president herself and the parties represented in parliament, the DPR. This common front centres around the determination to preserve Indonesia's territorial integrity, the so-called Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia or NKRI (Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia). Not surprisingly, there is a deep sense of humiliation at the 'loss' of East Timor, felt particularly keenly by the TNI, and a determination not to 'lose' any more territory.

The top echelon in the armed forces, the TNI commander-in-chief General Endriartono Sutarto, and the army's chief-of staff, General Ryacudu Ryamizard, have frequently insisted that the NKRI project can only be secured by giving the military a greater, and indeed the decisive, role in fighting separatism, the 'scourge' which threatens the Indonesian state in the two resource-rich provinces, Aceh and Papua. By virtue of two decrees and two laws adopted in 2000, their role has been seriously undermined. These provide for the separation of the police force, Polri, from the TNI, and establishes the role of the police in the preservation of security and order, restricting the TNI to being responsible for the defence of the realm against foreign foes.

The first important sign of a determination to reverse the reform process came with a meeting of hundreds of active and retired top-ranking military officers convened by Ryacudu Ryamizard in March this year. Following the meeting Ryacudu said that 'the military's security role should be reinstated due to the threats of separatism and other security disturbances'. Fine-tuning the army's professionalism might be enough for the armed forces of a country like the US, he said, but for Indonesia whose process of nation-building had not been completed, this was not enough. 'The army,' he said, 'was very concerned with the country's territorial integrity.' [The Jakarta Post, 21 March 2003]

This was soon followed by the publication of a Defence White Paper, by the minister of defence, Matori Abdul Djalil, a civilian who is quite comfortable with being the mouthpiece of the country's most heavily militarised department of state. This White Paper argues that while Indonesia does not face any immediate threat of a foreign invasion, the so-called 'traditional' threat facing a purely defence force, it faces numerous 'non-traditional' threats ranging from terrorism, communal conflicts, illegal logging and trafficking in people to separatism. It argues further that as long as such threats remain at a 'low-intensity level', they can be handled by the police but the more serious they become, the more incumbent it is on the TNI to handle them.

The White Paper argues throughout that it is the task of the TNI to 'safeguard the nation', which requires that it prepare not only for 'war military operations' but also 'non-war military operations' called 'operasi military selain perang', a serious encroachment on the role of the police. The Jakarta Post described this as 'tantamount to a vote of no confidence in our police and probably even amounts to an insult'. [15 April 2003]

The White Paper also argues for a reversal of a much-mooted major reform project for the TNI, the dismantling of the territorial command system. Instead of dismantling the system, it will be retained. Indeed, in the recent past, two new territorial command structures have been established, in North Maluku and Aceh, while others are likely to be established when Papua is split up into three provinces, a project close to the heart of the TNI.

Using the argument that underpinned the role of the armed forces during the Suharto New Order era, that the army is 'the army of the people and must remain close to the people', the White Paper says that any attempt to distance the army from the people is an 'abuse of the very essence' (kodrat) of the army. Being ‘part of the people’ can only be achieved by the retention of its 'territorial command function' , or to use a term now so popular, the 'embedding' of the army among the people. The territorial command structure ensures the army a presence at every administrative level of society, from provincial down to district, sub-district and village levels. As some commentators have pointed out, this will ensure that the army remains the most powerful and best-organised political institution in the country, whatever the outcome of the general elections due to be held in 2004.

The Defence White Paper also emphasises the role of the TNI in facing 'the threat of armed separatism in Aceh and Papua'. It laments the fact that these armed struggles have intensified during the past decade and have 'even won sympathy and support for their causes in other countries'. In the case of Aceh, while welcoming the 'cessation of hostilities accord' (COHA) signed in December 2002, it states unequivocally that the Indonesian government will pursue that accord by 'persuading GAM to return to the fold of the motherland and accepting the framework of NKRI'. This was one of the demands that led to the final breakdown of talks between Indonesia and GAM in Tokyo in the weekend of 17-18 May, leading to the declaration of Martial Law in Aceh on 19 May.

With regard to Papua, the White Paper states that the separatist OPM group is still active, and is using ‘propaganda, incitements, terror, robberies and pressurising the population’, resulting in widespread unrest and fear. The OPM and their supporters ‘have set up networks abroad to seek international support’. It goes on to say that ‘as things stand at present, NKRI has the strong support of the international community which regards Papua as an internal matter for Indonesia’. While stating that it is the task of the TNI to ‘overwhelm’ the OPM separatists so as to preserve NKRI, this will be pursued in the first place 'by persuading the separatists to re-unite with their brothers in NKRI’. But should the response to this approach not be positive, ‘the government will consider using more effective methods’.

Combating separatism is clearly at the top of the TNI's agenda as it rolls back the process of reform.

While commentators were still absorbing the contents of the Defence White Paper and working out their responses, along came yet another move, the publication of a draft bill on the TNI. Without waiting for any discussion in parliament, the chairmen of the two national legislative chambers, Akbar Tanjung (recently sentenced to three years imprisonment in a fraud case) who is still functioning as chairman of the DPR, and Amien Rais, chairman of the MPR, announced their endorsement of the bill.

The draft has provoked a storm of protest focused in particular on Article 19 which grants the power to the TNI commander to mobilise his forces in a situation which he perceives to be an emergency, without consulting the head of state. Some commentators describe this as the loophole for a ‘legal coup’. A carefully considered evaluation has come from the Coalition for Democracy which regards this as ‘a systematic endeavour to reject political authority by strengthening the authority of the army commander, and removing civilian control over the armed forces’. Some of the country’s foremost experts on the military, including Munir, Todung Mulya Lubis, Kustanto Anggoro, Ikrar Nusa Bakti and Syamsuddin Haris have joined in voicing these concerns. [Sinar Harapan, 4 March 2003].

By granting to the TNI commander the authority to establish defence policy and deploy national resources in promotion of that policy, the authority of the minister of defence has been overridden and the principle of civilian control over the armed forces has been removed.

According to Syamsuddin Haris, the draft bill grants unlimited powers to the TNI commander to make his own ‘subjective definition that the sovereignty of the state, the country’s territorial integrity and the security of the national are under threat’. Moreover, Article 19 speaks about the need to act to ‘prevent greater damage being inflicted on the state’. The elucidation that accompanies the Bill defines this as meaning ‘mass unrest and other things’. The vague, open-ended definition can, as Syamsuddin warns, be easily used by the army to pursue its own political agenda.

It remains to be seen how the draft will be handled by the DPR, but the omens are not good, as the parties represented in parliament are falling over themselves to affirm their loyalty to and support for the armed forces. This may be even truer following the start of the war in Aceh. No party in parliament has voiced concern about, let alone opposition to, the president’s decision to declare martial law or to the brutal activities of the armed forces in pursuit of their war aims.

The Indonesian armed forces are now engaged in two major military operations, in Aceh and Papua. In Aceh, civil society which includes a whole range of non-governmental organisations dealing with human rights, the monitoring of atrocities and the humanitarian needs of the many thousands of internally displaced people, are being forced to curb their activities and activists are fleeing the province in fear of their lives. The international aid agencies are unable to go anywhere outside Banda Aceh, while Indonesian journalists are under strict orders to clear all their reports about the war with the military authorities before publication. Allegations in the Indonesian press that all the persons killed so far are GAM members or sympathisers have been challenged by activists who we have been able to contact inside the province. They say that, as in every previous phase of military brutality in Aceh, the majority of victims are ordinary members of the public. The TNI’s vicious little war against the people of Aceh is daily reaching new heights and the chances of monitoring the situation are being strangulated by censorship and the gradual exclusion of foreign observers.

In Papua, an incident in Wamena on 4 April when an army ammunition dump was raided by alleged members of the OPM has been used as the pretext to recall the army’s elite corps, Kopassus, just recently ordered to leave the province. Since then, units of Kopassus and Kostrad, the army’s foremost combat forces, are conducting continual operations ostensibly to find the missing weapons. Dozens of people have been arrested, one of whom died under torture while in police custody. Sweepings of villages in the vicinity of Wamena have so terrified the inhabitants that thousands have fled into the forests, abandoning their gardens and living without proper shelter. Already there are reports of deaths due to lack of food and exposure to the cold night air. The military has meanwhile blocked attempts to conduct an investigation into an incident last August in the vicinity of the Freeport copper-and-gold mine when three teachers, one Indonesian and two Americans, were shot dead. Initial investigations by ELSHAM, Papua’s leading human rights organisation, and the local police reached the conclusion that Kopassus members were almost certainly responsible for the murders. Their purpose is to send a clear message to the mining company to continue to use their services to ‘protect’ the mine, for which the company pays handsomely.

Both these incidents have given the authorities the potential to point the finger of accusation at the OPM and, more importantly, to provide justification for the TNI to bolster their presence in Papua on the grounds of fighting separatism.

‘Fighting separatism’ has the unstinting support of Indonesia’s political elite, from the president down, who are giving the armed forces carte blanche to conduct operations as they see fit. The policy poses a grave threat not only to the people of Aceh and Papua but also the Indonesian people as a whole who may one day wake up to find themselves in the grip of a new kind of military power, just as menacing as the military power under which they suffered for more than three decades during Suharto’s New Order.