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Monday, 10 January, 2000, 14:31 GMT
Analysis: Tough times for Indonesia's military

army ambon Analysts say the army cannot deal with issues such as violence in the Moluccas

As separatist and ethnic violence rages in several hotspots across Indonesia's vast archipelago, the BBC's Kieran Cooke asks whether the military can prevent what many foresee as the break-up of the country itself.

These are difficult days for Indonesia's military. Indonesia encompasses more than 15,000 islands and stretches across an area greater than coast to coast of the United States.

Fragile Archipelago
Like firefighters trying to contain an ever more intense brushfire, the country's troops are being dispatched to various locations over this vast area in an effort to quell a growing tide of separatist and inter-communal and inter-religious violence.

Already this year the military has been ordered into the Moluccas to take control of the security situation: reports say 1,500 people have so far been killed in fighting between the islands' Muslim and Christian communities, though there are indications the death toll is considerably higher.

A rebel separatist movement is gaining strength in the province of Aceh.

suharto The military enjoyed great privilege under Suharto
At the other end of the country there are growing indications of a more organised push against Indonesian rule by rebels in the province of Irian Jaya.

These pressures on Indonesia's armed forces come at a bad time.

During the long rule of former President Suharto the military enjoyed a great deal of privilege and status.

Suharto - himself a former army general - expanded the armed forces' dual role as both a military and political force in Indonesian life.

The military was seen as very much the power behind the throne - ensuring Jakarta's rule was enforced in every part of the country and keeping any dissent firmly in check.

Many provinces were governed by military men: a large bloc of the Indonesian parliament is still controlled by the armed forces.

Low morale

With the end of the Suharto era the military's influence has diminished.

Indonesia's armed forces are deeply demoralised: the United Nations is investigating a long list of alleged human rights abuses by the military in East Timor.

To many in Indonesia the military is not seen as a benign force but as the actual cause of many of the country's problems
A new civilian administration led by President Abdurrahman Wahid has launched an unprecedented investigation into alleged human rights abuses by the military in the province of Aceh.

For the first time a non-military figure has been appointed as the country's defence chief.

Indonesia's military is also chronically underfunded and ill equipped.

According to latest figures Indonesia has just under 300,000 in its armed forces - out of a total population of more than 200 million.

Asia's economic crisis hit Indonesia harder than any other country in the region. In recent years the military has seen its budget slashed and its ability to buy expensive foreign equipment sharply reduced.

army Indonesia's military is ill-equipped and underfunded
Military analysts say that apart from a small number of elite troops, the bulk of the Indonesian army is under-trained and unable to deal with complex issues such as trying to bring peace between Muslim and Christian communities in the Moluccan islands.

To many in Indonesia the military is not seen as a benign force but as the actual cause of many of the country's problems.

Its repressive behaviour, particularly during the rule of former President Suharto, undoubtedly caused deep resentment in many areas.

Under the Suharto regime - where military figures controlled many key areas of economic life - a number of senior military figures were seen as corrupt, siphoning off vast amounts of state funds to amass private fortunes.


Today there seem to be two factions within the military: one, the conservative faction, wants the armed forces to be once again placed at the centre of Indonesian society.

wahid President Wahid has promised to curb military powers
It is deeply angered by attempts to investigate alleged human rights abuses. It says if the military's standing is not increased, then chaos will be the result. It whispers that a coup might be needed to restore order to Indonesia.

The other faction, labelled the reformists, wants the armed forces to stay in its barracks and practise a strictly military role: it wants an end to the armed forces involvement in politics and a more professional army, navy and air force.

It says any talk of a coup is ridiculous, saying the military does not even have anything like adequate resources to take over government.

The dilemma for the the administration of President Wahid is that although he came to office with a promise to curb the military's powers, the longer the violence goes on in Indonesia the more he needs the armed forces.

The talk in Jakarta is that senior military figures are pressuring the president.

There is also talk of complex plots, with the military allegedly formenting unrest in various areas as a prelude to once again stepping in to take up a central role in the nation's life.

Indonesia's military is certainly not about to fade away

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See also:
10 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Protests greet Indonesian army chief
07 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Troubled history of the Moluccas
08 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: What provoked Moluccas violence?
24 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesia's year of living dangerously
09 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Ambon's divided camps ready to fight
08 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesian Muslims urge restraint
07 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Muslim anger over Moluccas
Indonesia's religious tensions

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