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Military's top brass gathering to set plan of attack for years to come

Jakarta Globe - January 19, 2011

Markus Junianto Sihaloho – The Indonesian Armed Forces on Wednesday kicked off a two-day national leaders' meeting to evaluate its performance last year and to decide on the military's priorities in years ahead.

For the meeting, around 140 high-ranking military officers gathered at the Armed Forces (TNI) headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta.

Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro opened the meeting and said one of the main targets of the gathering was for officers to determine a Minimum Essential Force capable of dealing with any threat to the country over the next 15 years.

"I am still optimistic that we can meet all targets mentioned in the MEF planning," he said.

"We must also be able to convince other countries that this MEF program is not part of an arms race, nor an expansion plan, but only serves to increase our deterrent capacity and is a part of measures to build self-confidence."

Another topic to be discussed in Cilangkap is the reform of the military's bureaucracy. Purnomo said that as part of the reform initiative, the military should also not forget "to accelerate the transferring of military businesses."

The TNI still holds various business interests, despite moves to force it to divest.

Meanwhile, TNI Chief Adm. Agus Suhartono praised the military performance in many missions – including peacekeeping, disaster relief and keeping the country safe from threats – despite having limited means at its disposal.

However, he also stressed the need for military commanders to find ways to improve soldiers' image in the public eye.

"The TNI is from the people and for the people," Agus said, adding that members of the military should thus endear themselves to the people. "Arrogant actions and vigilantism will only undermine the reform we have been struggling with for years," he said.

The military has come under broad criticism over alleged abuses – including torture – of civilians, especially in Papua.

Marine Lt. Gen. Nono Sampono, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency, during a discussion between Purnomo and other top brass said there was a need to increase military forces in Papua, citing the province's huge energy and mineral riches.

Although Nono said he believed there was no current foreign military threat to the province, he warned that it was possible Papua could secede.

"In the future, with sufficient political pressure, there may be [international] demand for a referendum [on self-determination] in Papua," he said.

"Before it's too late, we must strengthen our presence there, so that we can monitor the situation and prevent any serious threat from arising," Nono added.

Purnomo said the government was aware of this possibility and had prepared measures as part of the national security bill, which will soon be discussed at the House of Representatives.

If passed into law, the bill would provide the government with a legal umbrella to classify national security threats and to deploy forces to deal with it, he said.

"But if you want to specifically discuss the way in which our presence [in Papua] should be adjusted, go ahead," he added.

The Army is already studying the possibility of establishing a new military command in Papua, which would allow for a considerable increase in forces there.