Indonesians Confront Their Army, Prodding Leaders to Try Reforms

Parliament opens Nov. 10 in wake of a probe that found Army fueled recent violence

Today the Indonesian Army is pointedly doing what it is supposed to do - guarding the peace.

More than 20,000 troops are posted in the capital city to prevent student protests from turning violent during this session of the People's Consultative Assembly, an expanded parliament, which meets starting Nov. 10 to discuss political reform.

General Wiranto, commander in chief of the armed forces, guides journalists past large green tents pitched in the parks, riot shields laid out on the lawns, and laundered Army pants drying in the trees. He is keen to show that the military is doing its job.

That was not the case in May, when riots broke out in six cities and more than 1,000 people were killed. Rather than stop the looting, soldiers guarded only those shopping malls and villas of the wealthy who had paid for protection.

An investigative team of government officials and public activists concluded last week that active soldiers provoked some of the violence that led to the first change in Indonesia's leadership in 32 years. The report says they killed students, raped women, and sparked riots to suppress antigovernment protests.

TO many Indonesians, the May riots brought home the problem with Indonesia's military: Its 500,000 members, police included, are too busy playing politics and working for profit to secure law and order. They control government posts, run some of the country's largest conglomerates and, now more than ever, allegedly engage in smuggling, theft, and extortion of private enterprise.

Such charges are often leveled at other armies in Asia, particularly in Burma, Vietnam, and China. But Indonesia's soldiers are alone in facing a people who now feel empowered to speak out. The two main demands of protesters now are for Suharto to be put on trial and for the military to resign their seats in parliament. "The military should go back and focus on what it's supposed to do," says Abdillah Toha, a magazine editor. "They do more harm than good."

Following a string of exposs on the business empires set up by Suharto, his family, and friends, magazines and two new books recently revealed the intricate network of businesses run by active and retired military. Military foundations own much of the central business district of Jakarta and have shares in several airlines, banks, toll roads, and numerous industries.

"The whole Army is involved, from the lowest commander on up," says Indria Samego, a political scientist who wrote one of the books. "The military is most active where they have a legitimate role to play," as in East Timor and Aceh, two areas where the Army moved in thousands of troops to defeat separatist rebels. "They focus on exploiting the country's natural resources."

Mr. Indria says Suharto set the trend in the 1950s, when he set up a sugar smuggling ring and other businesses with two other men. Generals also headed state companies such as Pertamina, the oil and gas monopoly.

Instead of supplementing the military's meager budget, these businesses often aid a few generals. "They just use ABRI (the Indonesian Armed Forces)," Indria says. "The soldiers get very little."

Like most companies in Indonesia, however, the military businesses are reeling from the world's most dramatic economic crisis since World War II. Their traditional partners, Chinese-Indonesian businessmen, have been the targets of ethnic riots earlier this year. Many have emigrated while those who remain stashed their savings offshore in case violence breaks out anew.

"[These businesses are] their cash cow," Indria says. "When the cow does not provide any milk anymore, ABRI must find another source of income - like racketeering." Factories are complaining of rising protection fees demanded by the local military.

Muslim leaders such as Amien Rais, a candidate for president, have accused the military of organizing recent killing sprees of Islamic teachers on Java in a bid to sow terror and spark calls for a restoration of military rule. Wiranto denied the charge, but Gen. Subagyo Hadisiswoyo, the Army's chief of staff, said last week he would investigate media allegations that Army deserters had operated as hired killers.

Indria believes that, despite the protests, the current government is too weak to curb the military and its commander, Gen. Wiranto, too ambitious to clean it up. "There are no strong political figures, so they still rely on ABRI for protection," Indria says. "Wiranto wants power. And that requires money."

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a prominent economist, blames the government for the military's penchant for profiteering. "We allow them to finance themselves. That means we allow for lawlessness, for distortions in the economy."

Ms. Mulyani says economic reforms agreed to with the International Monetary Fund do nothing to address this problem. "We can meet all the IMF requests but it will mean nothing," she says. "The ... people who run all this are underpaid and live in a system that is corrupted."

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