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Calls grow to rein in Indonesian military

Army under increasing fire after 30 soldiers set police station ablaze in Jakarta

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Calls grow to rein in Indonesian military

Indonesian military chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto speaks to reporters in this file photo. He has vowed to punish soldiers involved in an attack on a police station in Jakarta on Aug. 29. (Photo: Konradus Epa/UCA News) 

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Public concern is growing in Indonesia about strained ties between the police and military that has seen sometimes deadly violence flare in recent times.

The latest incident occurred in Ciracas, East Jakarta, on Aug 29 when a group of soldiers attacked a police station.

It was triggered by a story fabricated by a soldier who told his comrades that he had been attacked by police officers.

This led to about 30 soldiers setting the police station on fire. Two policemen were injured in the attack, which also saw cars and nearby stores burned.

However, a military investigation revealed the soldier was not beaten by policemen but had been involved in a traffic accident.

The soldier, Muhammad Ilham, lost control of his motorbike and injured himself, according to the probe.

Army Chief of Staff Andika Perkasa responded by saying that military chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto had vowed to throw the soldiers involved in the attack, as well as Ilham, out of the army.

"It is better to lose 31 soldiers or even more than have the good name of the Indonesian army tainted by irresponsible behavior,” he told a press conference on Aug. 30.

He added that those affected by the violence would be compensated.

Activists, including church people, warned that such incidents would continue if there was no comprehensive resolution, especially within the military, which in recent years has frequently been involved in clashes with police.

The Ciracas case was the latest in a string of clashes between the two forces since rivalries became more intense following their split as part of reforms introduced in 1998 when the Suharto regime fell.

In April, three policemen were killed and two others seriously injured during a clash with soldiers in Mamberamo district, Papua province.

Last December, clashes broke out between police and the military in Maluku province in which several policemen were injured.

In October 2014, soldiers attacked a police station in Papua, injuring several police officers.

Ghufron Mabruri, deputy director of the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor, said the problem will never go away unless there is the will to crack down hard on offenders.

He called for the amendment of a 1997 law on military courts so that servicemen can be tried in civilian courts.

"We must ensure equality before the law. Military courts are behind closed doors, so it is not really known what punishments, if any, are meted out for such behavior,” Mabruri said.

For a short-term conflict resolution, every case must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators dealt with firmly, he said.

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, from the Bishops' Commission for the Laity, said such hot-headed actions by the military endanger the wider community, especially since soldiers have easy access to deadly weapons.

He called for greater discipline to be instilled during military and police training.

“The military also needs to be trained to become modern soldiers in accordance with the times. It's hard to believe that they can easily trust unverified information,” he said about the latest violent incident.

Father Antonius Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, said an outdated notion of solidarity within the military must be addressed.

"The Ciracas case is proof of blind solidarity in the name of esprit de corps," he said.

Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the military and police need to build synergy at all levels.

"So far, such cooperation has only been seen at higher levels. Ordinary soldiers and policemen, however, remain at loggerheads,” said Hendardi, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

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