Down to Earth No. 46, August 2000

The role of the military:
regional autonomy or TNI hegemony?

Another major obstacle to the sustainable management of natural resources is the continuing prominence of the military in many regions. Its continued high profile role from province to village level means that it is a potent threat to the success of regional autonomy, where 'success' means managing local resources sustainably, sharing benefits equitably and respecting human rights.

Very little attention has been given to the role of the military in regional autonomy discussions, a point that was highlighted in March this year by Rizal Sukma of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). "We know that governors, regents (district heads) or village heads are always "accompanied" by local military commanders," he said, adding that a formal regulation was needed to address this, or civilian power would be fruitless under regional autonomy (Jakarta Post 10/Mar/00).

The territorial command structure of Indonesia's armed forces provided the backdrop for the military's business empire-building in timber extraction, fisheries, plantations and other areas during the Suharto years and before. The military's participation in all levels of public office under the "dwi-fungsi" or "dual-role" provision allowed military chiefs to capitalise on these opportunities by ensuring that the local bureaucracy worked in their favour.

Under Habibie, the military were obliged to choose between the military and their civilian posts - the start of an attempt to ease the armed forces out of civilian life. Under the Wahid presidency, more steps have been taken toward curbing the political influence of the military at national level and the next session of the country's highest legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), is expected to strip the military of their remaining seats in parliament.

On the other hand, no decisive action has been taken against those in command of troops committing atrocities in Aceh, West Papua, East Timor, Maluku or elsewhere.

Wahid's relationship with the military is an uneasy one. A pilot project aimed at doing away with the territorial command structure in parts of Java has reportedly been abandoned, under a storm of protest from members of the armed forces who objected to the prospect of losing the economic opportunities the structure provides.

Military protection

Then there is the persistent problem of the military's role in "protecting" large companies, like mining giant Freeport/Rio Tinto in West Papua, from outsiders. Since central government considers such protection a security issue, it remains under central government control. This is a serious blow to genuine regional autonomy and does not augur well for the healthy development of democracy either at national or local level.

Past experience shows how the creation of enclave industries imposed without the agreement of local communities breeds high levels of conflict. In West Papua, the combination of military might and economic clout has led to the intensive militarisation of a large area around the massive Grasberg gold and copper mine and its downstream operations. It has resulted in over two decades of human rights abuses inflicted on the local indigenous population.

The level of military brutality in this protection role was kept in abeyance during the first months of Wahid's government but there are clear signs that the President is preparing for a clamp-down on what he sees as actions which threaten investor confidence.

"I have ordered the Mines and Energy Minister to provide mining investors with protection," he announced at the opening of an international energy conference in July. "Security is a vital factor for the sustainability of investment in Indonesia. Therefore, a conducive security condition is important for economic recovery," he said. "The main issue is maintaining the rule of law. If necessary we will use force." Sounding more and more like his dictator predecessor, Wahid said the government would not hesitate to take strong action to safeguard mines, especially if the protest was instigated by outsiders.
(Indonesian Observer 11/July/00)

The backdrop to this alarming announcement was the labour dispute at Kaltim Prima mine in East Kalimantan, jointly owned and operated by two of the biggest British and international mining companies: Rio Tinto (again) and BP-Amoco. Hundreds of workers demanding better pay and conditions started blockading the mine in June, bringing production and exports to a halt. The previous months had seen Rio Tinto under siege further inland at the Kelian gold mine, where local Dayak people, angry over the company's manipulative negotiating tactics, blockaded the mine site, forcing a halt to gold production.

The day after Wahid's announcement, it emerged that foreign companies would be expected to pay for this military protection. Minister of Defence Juwono said "co-operation" between security forces and investors was necessary because the government could not work alone to deal with the growing security problem, due to lack of funds. "At present I cannot guarantee the safety of investors," he admitted.

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