Despite protests, military spy network back in action

Updated On: Oct 28, 2005

Jakarta – The Indonesian military's vast community-based intelligence network (Babinsa) – seen as a source of human rights' abuses during the Suharto regime – has been reactivated. The various units of this network will act as the government's  "eyes and ears" and strengthen its capability to prevent terrorist attacks, said Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono. 

     The government's decision to co-opt the Indonesian military (TNI) has drawn fire from many quarters. But Mr Juwono said: "People have realised that we have to use the territorial command to assist the war against terrorism. It is part of the total defence and security system involving the military, police and people, stated by the Constitution."
      A key element of the territorial command is the Babinsa, under which non-commissioned officers (NCOs) are tasked with the monitoring of two to three villages for likely threats to security. 
     These officers are supposed to maintain close links with local community leaders and keep communication channels open to be able to pick up information about suspicious activity. The TNI currently has some 37,000 NCOs taking part in the Babinsa system, including some 1,000 in Jakarta alone. 
     Mr Juwono, saying that times had changed, assured the public that the excesses that Babinsa units were notorious for under the Suharto regime would not be repeated.
     In the past, Babinsa officers would detain government critics, intimidate people or coax them to vote for Golkar, which was then the ruling party. 
     "The NCOs can be the eyes and ears of the police, with cooperation of the community, they can monitor who is coming in, and who is lodging where," he toldSingapore's The Straits Times. 
     Unlike in the past, the NCOs will not have the power to arrest or detain suspects. Officers would have to report their findings to the police instead.
     The move to reactivate the Babinsa followed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's call on the military to join the war against the terrorism after the resort islandof Bali was hit by terrorist bombs for the second time on Oct 1. 
     However, civil and human rights' activists, as well as some politicians, have criticised the move. They argue that it would jeopardise Indonesia's nascent democracy and risk giving the military a carte blanche for rights' abuses.

* Jakarta reactivates military’s community spy network (The Straits Times, Oct 25)