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JANUARY 31, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 4

Extended interview with General Agum Gumelar
"It Is Likely There Are Provocateurs"

Mulkan Salmona/Jakarta Post

Transport Minister Agum Gumelar, an active three-star general, is one of the Indonesian military's leading intellectuals and a strong candidate for the post of armed forces chief. He spoke with TIME correspondent David Liebhold and reporter Zamira Loebis in his Jakarta office Jan. 19. The following is an expanded excerpt from the interview:

Cover: Raging Inferno
All eyes are on the army as Indonesia tries to quell protests and save democracy
Interview: A top general speaks on the military's future
Catch-22: There can't be stability without economic recovery
Viewpoint: Wahid is reviving the national ideal

Energy: How High Will It Go?
OPEC's determination to push up the price of oil could derail Asia's fragile economic recovery

Agus Wirahadikusuma: 'I Don't See a Coup Scenario'
Online Exclusive: Maj.-General Agus Wirahadikusuma, a leading reformer in Indonesia's military, spoke with TIME about President Abdurrahman Wahid's relationship with the army and rumors of a possible coup

Indonesia: Calm Before the Storm
Religious differences have turned the Moluccas into a battlefield, filled with hate and the prospect of more violence

Indonesia: Chaos in the Islands
As clashes between Muslims and Christians escalate in the far-flung Moluccas, many wonder if anyone's in charge in Jakarta

Photo Essay
The streets of Jakarta in the hours leading up to the selection of Wahid and Megawati

Breaking news from Southeast Asia

Cry for a Holy War
Jakarta feels the reverberations from Ambon

TIME: Will there be a military coup?
It would be very stupid of the armed forces to do that, especially at a time when the people's trust in us is at its lowest ebb. It can always happen that there are some members of the military who are not satisfied with the current situation. But that's not a coup, that's insubordination. If it occurs, I'll be the first one to counter it.

TIME: So you can rule out a military coup.
Yes, you can rule out a military coup.

TIME: Many people believe that unrest in Aceh, Ambon and elsewhere is at least partly the work of politically motivated provocateurs.
Since the fall of Suharto, there has been an expectation among the people that Indonesia would be better, that everything that took place in the past--mistakes, injustices--would be solved in the spirit of reform. That hope has not become reality. Instead, various components of the élite began maneuvering in pursuit of their own interests. These maneuverings inevitably made the different political parties collide with one another. This produced sparks. Meanwhile, the burden on the people is very heavy because of the economic crisis. It was easy for the sparks to inflame the people, and that's what has been happening. After the election, all political conflicts should be considered over and done with, and we must concentrate on rebuilding the whole nation. However, there are still political struggles taking place, there is still a polarization of interests. There are still a lot of time bombs left by the old regime. Look at Ambon, for example. The Ambon conflict has been going on for a year, while the government of Gus Dur [President Abdurrahman Wahid's nickname] is only two months old. Take Aceh. Many promises were made--to build a new railway system, and so on--but we don't have any money.

The upheavals now are not unrelated to the dynamics of politics which did not meet people's expectations. In such a situation, TNI [the military] has to maintain itself as a solid force. At the same time TNI has been verbally abused, cursed, scorned and jeered at. There are two kinds of people who keep barking at TNI. The first are those who scorn TNI because they love TNI and they don't want TNI to be bad as it was during Suharto's era, when it did a lot of things outside its own domain. They realize that TNI is one of the most important components of the nation, a component that can defend the nation, where you can place your hopes.

People in the second group, deep in their heart, hate TNI very much. They have revenge in mind. Remember what happened in 1965? Who killed the PKI? It was TNI, wasn't it? Remember, PKI at that time was the biggest communist party in the world outside of the communist countries. That means those old members had children and grandchildren, who, remembering their parents and grandparents, hated TNI for what it did to them. They are vengeful, and they use the momentum of "reformasi" to destroy TNI.

In TNI itself, there are two kinds of members: The first is bigger. Because they've been criticized and jeered at, they ask themselves why and look for an answer and tell themselves "it's no wonder that we've been cursed." After being criticized they realize that it's true that TNI made a lot of mistakes in the past. They were the New Order's bulldozers, watchdogs. They were defenders of the regime, not of the people. A lot of TNI officers saw that they had made so many mistakes in the past. And as a result, they are committed to a goal of putting TNI back on track, the way people expect them to.

The second group, however, view those who criticize TNI as their enemies and think that they have to prepare forces to face them.

TIME: Can they be called TNI's right wing?
I don't think I'm prepared to say that. Maybe. I don't know. What the majority of the people want is simply a safe, orderly, peaceful, prosperous life. When I say "the majority," it implies that there is still the "minority" who want the opposite. Ideally, TNI should take the former's side and stern action against the latter. This can be done without abusing human rights, by staying within the law.

The most dangerous enemy of the nation for the sake of democracy now is unlimited euphoria. Reformasi has been interpreted as "anything goes"--in the name of religion, for instance.

TIME: But are provocateurs deliberately fomenting unrest?
It is very likely that there are provocateurs. They have fertile ground here. There are so many areas that are easy to ignite. Ambon is not the only place. Yes, I think everything's possible.

TIME: Military intelligence is supposed to be very good, but is it possible that unrest could happen without anyone knowing of it in advance?
We do have a vast intelligence network here, but its professionalism is not as high as you think it is. It's true that they're good in some parts, but in others they are very weak. Every time we send troops, NGOs will scream that we are wrong. We are in a very, very problematic position.

TIME: What about the law that military officers should retire if they take civilian positions?
It's not my will to be a member of this cabinet. For me, it's an order. As a military man, I just said, "Yes, Sir!"

TIME: Isn't it strange that at the highest level the law is broken?
(shrug) Maybe.

TIME: Does the navy's Admiral Widodo, chief of the armed forces, lack control of the army?
That's not true. In TNI, whether we are from the navy, army or the air force, we obey the same regulations. We obey whoever is the leader, regardless of what force he is from. Maybe the problem is that we have a territorial system. All territorial areas--we have nine of them--are headed by the army, all nine of them are headed by army officers.

TIME: You mentioned promises made by the previous government and that there's no money now to keep those promises. TNI now has to fight in Ambon, Irian Jaya, etc.--is it difficult to do so?
Very difficult, but still possible under one condition. It has to maintain itself as a solid force, meaning: professional, integrated physically and visionary. The most important thing is that a solid TNI is a TNI that loves the people and is loved by the people.

TIME: Should the Indonesian military relinquish its role in politics, giving up its so-called dual function [dwifungsi]?
Who brought Indonesia to independence in 1945? The answer is: the whole Indonesian people, including ABRI [an old acronym for the Indonesian military plus the police]. After we gained independence, we agreed to have one country: NKRI [Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia]. After that, we decided what we'd like to achieve, so we agreed on our national goals. Meaning that after we became independent, we have to work together to achieve our national goals. When we said "we" I meant all of the nation's components, which means that TNI also has the responsibility to guarantee that the national goals are achieved--this what is meant by its "social and political role." Social and political force doesn't necessarily mean using arms. Dwifungsi was abused by Suharto, who put military officers in the positions of governor, district chief, village head, etc. The essence of dwifungsi is that the armed forces share responsibility for achieving national goals. We have to bring the people to a full understanding of this. But at the moment, if we even mention the word, people boo at us. So we'll have to do it slowly.

TIME: Should military officers be put on trial for human rights abuses?
If there is strong proof supported by legal facts, why not? When I was in South Sulawesi, I found out that my men ganged up to attack two students. The same day I took stern action against them. I put them in a cell 14 times in 24 hours; when they came out, I sent them to a battlefield: it was East Timor at that time. I didn't want my men to be cocky in front of weaklings. If they want to be cocky, they can do it in the battlefield. If a law is broken by a soldier--whether he is a general or from the lower ranks--if there is authentic proof, then why not? We have to be consistent.

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