An Indonesian parliamentary committee sent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's nomination to lead the armed forces to the full Parliament on Thursday after the nominee assured them of his commitment to rein in corrupt military business interests and prevent human rights abuses.
Djoko Suyanto, who currently heads the air force, said he would cooperate with the attorney general's office on human rights cases, although he added that the responsibility for any unsuccessful prosecutions would lie with the civilian justice system.
Suyanto, who studied in 1983 at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, told the parliamentary defense committee Wednesday that he favored total civilian control over the military and would eliminate participation by military officials in the political process.
He also said that he would support the government's efforts to investigate the military's involvement with business interests. In many parts of Indonesia, the military is engaged in legal activities such as owning hotels and shopping centers, but it is also linked to illegal operations, such as logging and gambling. In particular, Suyanto said, he supported the efforts of a group of cabinet ministers that is auditing the military's business practices.
"The military is not allergic to change," Suyanto, 55, told the committee. A final vote on the nomination is expected Tuesday. Widjajanto, a lecturer at the University of Indonesia and a military analyst, said Suyanto, if approved, was likely to continue the initial reforms of the outgoing military leader, General Endriartono Sutarto.
"His whole experience is based on combat, and he has no track record of abuse or human rights violations," Widjajanto said. "And because he has always been involved with military operations, he has never been involved with politics."
Recent efforts to overhaul the military, notably its involvement in politics, have produced better relations with the United States. The Bush administration has encouraged closer ties with the military, seeing it as possible partner in its campaign against terrorism.
In November, the administration lifted prohibitions on the sale of lethal American equipment after restoring training for Indonesian armed forces earlier in the year. Washington had cut military assistance to Indonesia in 1991, after the army cracked down on the independence movement in East Timor, formerly an Indonesian province, and sanctions were further tightened in 1999 after the army killed more than a thousand civilians there.
Suyanto defended the military's organizational structure, which is left over from the three-decade rule of Suharto, who was ousted in 1998, even though some critics of the military want to dismantle it. Suyanto said the structure was helpful as an "early warning system" against terrorism because it gave the military a presence at all levels of the country, from provinces to districts to villages. He said he intended to keep it, despite concerns that the structure encourages involvement by the military in civilian affairs.
During the hearing Wednesday, lawmakers expressed concern that the commander of the air force, the smallest branch of the military, would have trouble asserting control over the army, which is the most powerful branch of the Indonesian military.
"I think he is the best for the job," said H. Ade Nasution, one of the members of Parliament who questioned Suyanto. "But he will have to assert his authority with confidence if he wants to control the army."
Meaningful reform of the military, some believe, will depend on the extent to which Parliament and the president insist on change. "There are still parts of the military, especially the army, that is resistant to reform," said Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a military affairs expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
Peter Gelling International Herald Tribune
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2006