Andreas Harsono, Jakarta – Indonesian military commander Gen. Wiranto managed to consolidate his power base after launching a major reshuffle of his command structure that involves 100 officers.
Political observers said the reshuffle announced on Monday had practically sidelined officers who are closely associated to Wiranto's archrival, ousted Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto.
Muhammad A.S. Hikam of the Indonesian Institute of Science said Wiranto had actually booted "unreliable officers" such as Maj. Gen. Djoko Subroto of the East Java military command.
According to Hikam, Subroto failed to observe a Wiranto instruction that the East Java command halt and investigate a mysterious killing spree that claimed more than 150 lives in the area late last year.
Another military commander, Maj. Gen. Ismed Yuzairi of the northern Sumatra command, was apparently replaced because of his inability to cope with the growing unrest in the politically-sensitive Aceh region on the northern tip of Sumatra.
Yuzairi is also a close ally of Prabowo, the son-in-law of former President Suharto, who stepped down in May amid nationwide student protests and rioting in many Indonesian cities.
Wiranto dismissed Prabowo and some other officers soon after Suharto's resignation, saying that they were involved in the kidnapping of human rights activists in early 1998. But Prabowo hasn't been charged and is now in Jordan to start a business there.
Indonesian media reported that those who were promoted on Monday are close to Wiranto, adding to speculation that the general is likely to be a presidential candidate in the election scheduled for November 1999.
Wiranto, however, dismissed such speculation, saying that it the promotions are merely a routine tour of duty. He also dismissed speculation that he is sidelining "green officers". "There is no such a speculation," Wiranto told reporters on Monday.
"Green officers" refers to Islamic soldiers who advocate that Muslim officers control the majority of key positions in the armed forces. The opponent of those officers are usually called the nationalist "red-and-white" group.
The rivalry between the two groups is a public secret in Indonesia. Prabowo belongs to the "green group" after making many public statements on the issue and meeting with various Muslim figures. The low-profile Wiranto is speculated to be a nationalist officer who makes his decisions strictly on merit.
Lt. Gen. Sugiono, the deputy army chief, will take the military's number three job as head of general affairs. Sugiono replaces Lt. Gen. Fachrul Razi, who was given a job in the defense department.
The new deputy army chief is Lt. Gen. Johny Lumintang, a former head of the army command school who has served in the remote province of Irian Jaya, where a small band of separatist rebels operate.
In the turbulent hours that followed Suharto's ouster, Lumintang replaced Prabowo as head of the elite Army Strategic Reserves but lasted only one day in the position. Many believe that Wiranto failed to defend his appointment of Lumintang after his opponents, including Senior Minister of Defense and Political Affairs Feisal Tanjung, had apparently charged that Wiranto favored a Christian officer over the Muslims.
Apparently referring to the reshuffle, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie, in an interview with the Singapore-based CNBC Asia broadcast Tuesday evening, said said the Indonesian military is united "as never before."
During the 32-year rule of Suharto, military appointments were usually made by Suharto himself, a retired five-star general. But many analysts think that the current reshuffle was catalyzed by Wiranto himself, instead of Habibie.
An insider closely related to one of the demoted officers said that the army two-star general was "shocked" when he learned that he was to be transferred to an unknown position. Quoting this two-star general, the insider, who asked to remain anonymous, said on Tuesday that Wiranto had obviously appointed officers loyal to Suharto.
The general made a reference to Lt. Gen. Sugiono and Maj. Gen. Tyasno Sudarto. Like Wiranto and other top commanders, Sugiono is a former personal adjutant to the 77-year-old Suharto.
Sudarto is the military commander in Central Java, a center of anti-government campus activism, who will take over from Maj. Gen. Zacky Makarim, once a close associate of Prabowo, as head of the military intelligence agency. "No way that we could expect this regime to prosecute Suharto nor Prabowo," the insider said, adding that the new military line-up is very likely to protect the Suhartos.
The general was also quoted as saying that Wiranto regularly meets Suharto, perhaps suggesting that Wiranto still consults Suharto when making major decisions, including the reshuffle.
Military spokesman Syamsul Ma'arif dismissed speculation that the reshuffle was a move to rid ABRI, as the armed forces are known, of "Muslim elements" and said it was a regular change in tours of duty.
Also promoted were Army Strategic Reserves command Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu, who will become the new East Java military commander, replacing Subroto. The military's reputation has been seriously damaged by a series of human rights abuses amid the recent nationwide unrest.