Jakarta Globe April 29, 2009
Nothing is quite so unsettling as news of a military mutiny. Reports on Wednesday that a battalion of soldiers took over a commander’s office, fired guns into the air and terrorized residents near Jayapura, the capital of Papua, brought back terrible memories. Just over a decade ago, after former President Suharto stepped down from office amid rioting and economic collapse in May 1998, Jakarta was plagued by rumors of military unrest and potential mutinies. Investors pulled out, many people fled the country and ordinary citizens were terrified. The picture of instability those days painted of our society battered economic growth and harmed Indonesia’s image for years.
Fortunately, since that time the Indonesian military has undergone a dramatic transformation. It has pulled out of politics, lessened its involvement in the economy and begun transforming itself into a professional fighting force.
That is why news of the mutiny in restive Papua is so disturbing. Several hundred soldiers from a battalion in Jayapura went berserk, firing off guns and smashing Army property. Witnesses said the soldiers blockaded their base, searched journalists and seized a photographer’s camera. Journalists on the scene said they had to hide from rampaging soldiers and feared for their lives. Residents were bullied and commander s briefly lost control of the situation. Police said they were unable to intervene because it was an Army matter.
The soldiers were said to have been protesting over death and burial benefits for a soldier killed in the line of duty and demanding action from their superiors. Regardless of the grievances, however, it is never justified for our soldiers to violate the chain of command, endanger civilians and tarnish the image of the nation.
Thankfully, the situation was quickly brought under control without any apparent casualties, but the military must act swiftly and transparently to investigate the cause of the mutiny and take action to correct the breakdown in order. It is vital that the public be informed as soon as possible about the conditions that led to this brief, but frightening, lapse in discipline and that we be made aware of the steps being taken to see that this does not happen again.
When soldiers dedicated to the defense of the nation become, instead, a source of conflict and confusion, the ripple effects are widely felt. This mutiny has undoubtedly done great damage to the image of the military and the nation. Years of reform and progress can be easily forgotten, especially by investors, if it appears that elements of the military are out of control.
This incident should serve as a stern warning that all is not well with our military. The top brass of the TNI will have to be held to account for this incident and answer for what happened. Under the principle of command responsibility, those at the top must explain what happened to incite the men under their command to take the action they did. Punishment will have to be meted out.
We await the results of an inquiry and pray that it will be swift, fair and open.