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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 09:27 GMT 10:27 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Indonesian police lose army grip

Police have been accused of standing by during riots

Indonesia's police force is to separate from the army in an attempt to make it more independent and shed its militaristic role.

The split, which comes after 30 years under army control, will take place gradually over the next two years.

The police currently make up around half of the 440,000 armed forces personnel. But they are widely regarded as corrupt and ineffective by many Indonesians, say correspondents.

Sceptics have denounced the reform as cosmetic, saying that the police will still be under the command of General Wiranto, defence minister and head of Indonesia's armed forces.

Jonathan Head: Separating the police from the army is only a small part of the solution
General Kunarto, police chief from 1991-1993, said: "The army will not let go of the police because that will reduce their power. The police are like a bonsai plant - it lives but it cannot grow."

But General Wiranto has said that in time it is "very possible" for the police to be under the command of the president or the home affairs ministry.

Corruption endemic

The police first lost their independent status under the rule of the former leader, President Suharto, who was overthrown last May.

[ image: General Wiranto: Remains in charge of the police]
General Wiranto: Remains in charge of the police
Since his overthrow, Indonesia has been engulfed by escalating communal and ethnic rioting and outnumbered police have often just stood by.

Correspondents say supporters of the reform hope the police will adopt a less militaristic and more professional style in controlling the bloodshed and communal rioting sweeping Indonesia.

The BBC's Jonathan Head said that human rights activists hope an independent police force will move from heavy handed repression to more conventional duties such as community policing.

Correspondents say that separating the police from the army is just a small part of the solution to Indonesia's chronic law and order problems.

Corruption in the armed forces is said to be endemic with many police officers openly collecting bribes instead of impartially enforcing the law.

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