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World - Asia/Pacific

Indonesian police split from military

April 1, 1999
Web posted at: 4:46 a.m. EST (0946 GMT)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- In a move many hope will make Indonesia less repressive in dealing with the civil unrest sweeping the country, Indonesia's police force on Thursday split from the military after 30 years.

More than 400 people have died in communal violence this year and police and armed forces have been criticized for failing to stem the bloodshed and for often inflaming unrest by shooting civilians.

The process of making the two agencies independent of each other could take two years, according to armed forces (ABRI) commander and Defense Minister General Wiranto.

The police force numbers about 200,000, roughly one for every 1,000 people. The combined military numbers about 288,000, including the 223,000-strong army.

"This is a gradual process towards an independent police force and it is part of the internal reforms carried out within ABRI in line with reforms taking place in the nation," he said.

Many hope the police will now be free to adopt a less military, more professional style that will help quell the bloodshed sweeping the country.

Wiranto told reporters police funding would come from ABRI's budget for the fiscal year that began on Thursday. But he said it was possible to ask for more money.

"That will very much depend on the ability of the country to come up with those funds," he said.

Asked if the police could be shifted from his command and placed under the president or the home affairs ministry, Wiranto said: "That is a very great possibility, but it will depend on a decision from the People's Consultative Assembly."

Critics call move window dressing

Critics of the independence move say it is window-dressing to appease pro-democracy groups and please foreign aid donors.

They note the police will still answer to Wiranto, while a truly independent force should report to the president.

"They will not let go of the police because that will reduce their power. The police are like a bonsai plant -- it lives but it cannot grow," said General Kunarto, police chief from 1991-1993.

But the secretary general of the official human rights commission, Clementino Dos Reis Amaral, said police could now set their own policies and methods.

"The police are not as bad as they have been perceived by society," he said. "They will become more professional when they are independent."

The police force was placed under the control of the military in 1966 amid the worst wave of bloodshed to hit Indonesia since independence. It was a period when the army ran Indonesia.

As part of the reforms, the military's presence in parliament has been slashed.

The once all-powerful ABRI has seen its powers wound back in recent months in the face of mounting public demands for increased democracy in the world's fourth most populace nation.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Indonesian Armed Forces - Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia (ABRI-Net)
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