Jakarta – Speculation is growing that the altercation between police officers and members of the military in Batam on Sunday, which led to the wounding of four soldiers, occurred because the soldiers tried to protect the owner of an illegal fuel storage facility.
Police were raiding the storage facility in Batu Aji in Batam, Riau Islands province, on suspicion that it was being used to hoard fuel, when two soldiers who had just come from night duty got into a shouting match with police.
The police officers subsequently shot the soldiers in the legs. Two more soldiers were shot in similar fashion when they allegedly stormed into the nearby police station seeking retaliation for the earlier incident.
Neta S. Pane, the chairman of Indonesia Police Watch, attributed the altercation to unresolved conflict between the National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI).
"The problem is also rooted in economic or financial problems. Due to rising living expenses, low-ranking TNI members and police officers are often forced to offer their services on a freelance basis to protect nightclubs, commercial and industrial areas and even illegal businesses such as those that hoard subsidized fuel. Some may even protect drug dealers," Neta said in a press release on Tuesday.
He said esprit de corps among members often played a role in the competition to win these extra jobs, with members of the police and military showing their arrogance and superiority, especially when they feel that their interests are being jeopardized.
"To overcome this problem, a policy is needed that forbids officers and members from being involved in the protection of businesses or offering security services. The institution should fire those who are involved. The consequence [of such policy] is that the state has to offer decent salaries for both TNI and police [members]," Neta said.
He said the superiors at each institution seemed permissive with regard to illegal activities and that superiors often assigned subordinates to protect entrepreneurs and then take part of the payment received by such subordinates.
Maj. Gen. Istu Hari Subagio, commander of the Bukit Barisan territorial military command, said he will take firm action against soldiers proven guilty of protecting subsidized fuel hoarders.
"I will impose harsh sanctions on any soldiers who commit violations," Istu was quoted as saying by Antara in Medan, North Sumatra, on Monday.
Istu said he would not allow any soldier to protect owners of illicit businesses that are causing losses to the state, saying that it violates the TNI's regulations and taints the reputation of the Bukit Barisan territorial military command, which oversees North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Riau and the Riau Islands.
"So I will not allow soldiers under my command to commit such violations," he said, adding that he has set up a team to look into Sunday's shooting incident.
"This is to establish a clearer picture about the shooting against four Yonif 134/TS officers by the members of Riau Police's Mobile Brigade [Brimob]," said Istu, who is the former governor of the Indonesian Military Academy.
The TNI's chief spokesman Maj. Gen. M. Fuad Basya also said the military would take a firm action if the soldiers really tried to stop the raid on the illegal fuel storage facility.
"We will certainly take strict action if the TNI members really tried to intervene, or tamper with at the scene. The TNI must comply with the law," Fuad said in Jakarta on Tuesday.
However, he also reminded the National Police to check on their members and to take firm action against those who failed to follow the standard operational procedure during the raid and fired the shots.
"There are two different issues. First of all there was a violation. Secondly, there were shootings. If there were any mistakes in following procedure, which led to the shootings, firm action should be taken against the members of the National Police," Fuad said.
He said investigation teams from both the TNI and the police would investigate all the crime scenes. Aside from the separate teams, a joint investigation has also been set up to clarify the results from both camps.
"The TNI has formed an investigation team, the National Police has done the same. The results will then be verified by the joint investigation team," he said.
Regarding the possibility that the TNI may file a lawsuit if there was a violation of standard operating procedure, Fuad said he was confident that the National Police would impose sanction on the officers even if the TNI did not file a lawsuit.
"We believe the National Police chief will impose firm sanctions if any mistake occurred, even if we don't file a lawsuit. Basically, we don't want the good relations between the TNI and the National Police to be marred," he said.
Fuad said TNI chief Gen. Moeldoko and National Police chief Gen. Sutarman would hold a meeting to discuss the case and to prevent a similar incident from happening in future. "A meeting will definitely take place. They have also communicated [with each other]," Fuad said.
Fuad confirmed on Monday that two of the soldiers were injured when police tried to forcibly detain them near the scene of the raid.
The spokesman, however, refused to call it a "clash" between the soldiers and members of Brimob. "It was not a clash. The information I received said the police forcibly detained the soldiers," he said.
Illegal fuel storage facility
A source within Batam Police, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Jakarta Globe that the soldiers were shot after a raid on an illegal storage facility holding diesel, which was located about 500 meters from the local military base.
Police found the facility and detained two people who claimed to be passing by during the raid, the source said. "While the police were checking out the evidence and questioning the witnesses, some men with crew cuts gathered in front of the storage facility," the source said on Monday.
More men, whom the source claimed were soldiers, arrived on the scene soon after and allegedly shouted, "Let's go to war." The police subsequently decided to wrap up the raid and leave the location, but the men allegedly tried to stop them from leaving and reportedly assaulted one of the police officers who was on a motorcycle.
The source told the Jakarta Globe that following the incident, several soldiers turned up at the police station and began shouting insults. Brimob members, who had just finished their night briefing, saw the incident and one officer fired two warning shots into the air while others chased the soldiers to a nearby bridge, the source said.
More soldiers then showed up at the police station and torched a motorcycle and a canteen owned by a Brimob member, the source said. "Then the shooting started, causing four TNI members to get shot. So it's not true that this shooting happened for no reason," the police source said. The police are denying that the soldiers were shot intentionally.