Indonesia's Prison Break

11 Kopassus Members Admit to Attacking Sleman Prison

Jakarta - Head of the TNI Army Investigation team for the Sleman Prison attack, Brigadier General Unggul Yudhoyono said that 11 members of the Special Forces Command (Kopassus) have admitted their involvement in the attack of Cebongan Penitentiary in Sleman and the killing of the four "thugs", in the first day of the investigation.

"The members felt they were indebted to Santoso because he assisted them during operation," Unggul said on Thursday, April 4. "They were very responsive and responsible, admitting their actions on the first day of the investigation," he added.

Of the 11 personnel, one man with the initials U acted as the instigator. Eight other personnel supported the plan while the remaining two tried to prevent their colleagues.

On Saturday morning two weeks ago, Cebongan Penitentiary in Sleman, Yogyakarta, was raided by dozens of men armed with rifles, pistols, and grenades. They broke through the prison gates, took guards as hostages and shot four inmates dead.

The inmates were suspects of a scuffle at Hugo's Cafe, which resulted in the death of First Sergeant Santoso, a Kopassus member.

What actually happened in Cebongan prison?

On Good Friday, March 29, Army chief of staff Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo gave a rare press conference at the historic Army headquarters, which is located on the corner of Jl. Medan Merdeka Utara and Jl. Segara. Up until the mid-1950s, it was the Dutch army headquarters where the two general offensives against the Republic of Indonesia were prepared.

Pramono convened the meeting on the public holiday in order to underline the urgency of the matter to be discussed: the commando-style raid on a prison in Cebongan, Sleman regency, Yogyakarta. Four detainees were killed execution-style: Johanes Juan Manbait, Gamaliel Yeremianto Rohi Riwu, Adrianus Candra Galaja and Hendrik Angel Sahetapy, alias Deki. The raid occurred on Saturday morning, March 23. The four detainees had been accused of killing Sgt. Heru Santoso, a former Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) member in a fight at Hugo’s cafe in the Sleman area.

Police observers reported that 17 persons took part in the raid, all wearing masks except for two persons — one who knocked at the entrance gate and another who held a stopwatch to monitor the duration of the raid. The entire operation was completed within 15 minutes.

The weapons carried by the assailants were identified as possibly being AK-47s, FN pistols and hand grenades.

This latest blatant violation of the law by what seemed to be military-trained men was a crowning event of a series of recent clashes involving military and police personnel. These incidents have created a sense of instability and lawlessness. No wonder President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a forthright statement through spokesperson Daniel Sparringa three days after the raid.

The President rightly considered the execution-style killings as a direct attack on the state’s authority. In his instructions to National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo, Yudhoyono ordered a thorough investigation, the arrest and the legal prosecution of the perpetrators.

This is such a tough presidential instruction given the rife speculation that it was highly probable that the assailants were military personnel given the precision displayed. Diponegoro Military Commander Maj. Gen. Hardiono Saroso overseeing Central Java and Yogyakarta strongly denied the speculation. In a statement, he guaranteed that no military personnel under his command could possibly have taken part in the Sleman raid. He also stated that AK-47s were no longer used by the military.

One can only guess whether the general was dallying in double-talk, considering the rife speculation that commandos, dressed in civilian clothing, were most likely involved. It is well-known that a Kopassus forward base (Group II) is located in Kartasura, near Surakarta, less than a two-hour drive from Sleman.

Technically Hardiono was not lying, since operationally special commandos are not directly under his command, but receive operational instructions from the Kopassus headquarters in Cijantung, south of Jakarta. And the Kopassus commander reports directly to the Army chief. That’s why Pramono in his Good Friday press conference defended the Central Java regional commander by saying that based on incomplete information at that time, Hardiono had to issue a clear statement in order to ensure regional order and security.

As is the case with special commandos in a number of countries, the Indonesian red berets have a colorful history. Pramono’s late father, Lt. Gen. Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, was commander of the red berets in 1965 and 1966 and a popular figure among the anti-communist student movement. Gen. Soeharto used Sarwo Edhie’s red berets as an effective instrument in neutralizing remnants of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) after their clumsy grab for power in early October 1965.

The commando unit was established in mid-1952 by the illustrious Col. Alex Kawilarang, commander of the West Java Siliwangi division. (He came from a family steeped in military tradition. His father, Maj. Kawilarang, was one of the few Indonesians who reached that rank in the Dutch East Indies Army, KNIL). Alex himself graduated from the Royal Military Academy in Bandung on the eve of the Japanese invasion in February 1942.

In order to establish security and order in West Java and overcome the increasing vicious attacks by the Darul Islam movement, which was determined to establish an Islamic state, Col. Kawilarang decided to establish a commando unit specializing in anti-guerilla operations. Given its long history and significant role during crucial moments of Indonesian modern politico-military history (to mention just two events: the daring airborne operation in Pekanbaru, Riau, to neutralize the proclaimed counter government in West Sumatra, the PRRI, in February 1958; and the 1965/1966 operations to neutralize the PKI) and Pramono’s personal attachment as a former Kopassus commander, obviously he had to perform a balancing act during the Good Friday press conference. We would like to compliment him for his skillful performance.

On the one hand, he stated forthrightly that the Republic of Indonesia is a law-based state. “Everybody has to respect the law”. “Trust us. Scrutinize us. We will be transparent. I pledge, whoever is proven guilty will be punished — whoever is clearly innocent will be defended. Now is the time to be transparent.” Such strong words from the Army chief. Now we are waiting to see whether all those lofty words will be acted upon.

Everywhere, including in democratic countries, gaps are always noticeable between strong and clear statements delivered by their leaders and concrete actions implementing those statements.

However, it is saddening to observe, in the closing years of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration, how that gap is noticeably becoming ever wider. “Trust”, which Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo so keenly expected from the public, is indeed becoming a rare commodity.

The formation of an Army investigative panel announced during the Good Friday press conference already creates doubts on its efficacy. It is headed by the deputy commander of the military police, with the eight other members representing the Diponegoro Military Command, the subregional command, the local sectorial command, and last but certainly not least, the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus). Initial responses from various civil society organizations have been quite positive, but one also notices among the public the keenness to see a concrete result in a short time.

Indeed, Yudhoyono in a Cabinet meeting on Monday again expressed his clear stance that the investigative efforts regarding the prison raid at Cebongan should be “transparent” and “accountable”. He said he would support the separate investigations by the Yogyakarta provincial police and by the Army headquarters.

And herein lies the problem. There are now at least three investigations going on. Besides the two mentioned, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) is conducting its own investigation. Its chairperson, Siti Noor Laila, is quite ambitious in outlining the commission’s working agenda.

She said she intended to summon the Diponegoro Military Commander, the subregional commander and others. “We will not visit the officials related to this case individually. We will call them to appear before the commission.”

Pramono has diplomatically welcomed the rights commission’s investigative efforts. “However, there are established procedures that should be followed before a military officer is allowed to appear before the commissioner,” the general stated in his Good Friday press conference. One can sense that efforts are in the pipeline, in case, for instance, the commission summon the commander of the Kopassus’ Group II. It’s only logical that the commission would like to find out what sort of movement was recorded on March 13.

Frankly, we are skeptical whether all these investigations will produce the results expected by an anxious public despite the lofty pledges by the President and the Army chief. Differing goals, as pursued by at least the three investigations, will hamper thorough efforts to tackle the roots of the problem.

The Army headquarters’ investigative panel is too incestuous in its make up in which at the end of the day rank will be a determining factor. Let us assume, for discussion sake, that commandos were involved based on records and evidence. Will the Army headquarters’ investigative panel recommend the demotion of the Kartasura-based commander? Or will it “sacrifice” a mere sergeant to protect the reputation of the red berets, especially after prominent former Kopassus commanders appealed to Pramono that he should never forget his red beret roots. The pseudo-tribal culture tends to be pervasive among elite military units.

And the police? As a matter of fact, the Yogyakarta provincial police have plenty of relevant material related to the Cebongan raid, but for obvious reasons — weakened after recent revelations of mind-boggling corruption cases — are reluctant to be “transparent” and “accountable” as instructed by the President to whom the National
Police are accountable. After becoming aware of relevant materials circulating in the social media, the police are apparently conducting a sort of psychological warfare by indirectly releasing some of the data available to shape public opinion to their advantage.

The lame duck in this Cebongan drama is the National Commission on Human Rights. It does seem courageous its intention to summon military officials to be intensely interviewed regarding the facts surrounding the Cebongan prison raid. Alas, due to recent internal bickering, the commission has lost considerable weight and prestige. It is not so difficult to predict that its efforts will be stonewalled by all sorts of bureaucratic red-tape.

Most probably, the commission will then publicly complain that the military and the police are being uncooperative and do not respect the basic right of the Indonesian people to learn what actually happen that made blatant cold-blooded murder possible. Consequently, the overall relations between the ruling elite and the public will sour. The “trust” that Pramono is so anxious to seek will remain elusive.

What then needs to be done? The President should set up a national commission on law enforcement related to the Cebongan case. A presidential decree should be issued outlining its mandate and specific tasks. Prominent civil society leaders should be asked to serve, such as Adnan Buyung Nasution (former member of the Presidential Advisory Body), Todung Mulya Lubis (a prominent human rights lawyer), Azyumardi Azra (Muslim scholar from Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University) and Mahfud MD (former chief of the Constitutional Court). In order to ensure a level of linkage to the center of power, probably it would be tactical to appoint the coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister and Air chief Marshall (ret.) Djoko Suyanto as the panel chairpersons.

The three existing bodies should complete their investigative tasks. The national commission on law enforcement related to the Cebongan case could benefit from their findings. But it would have to submit its own recommendations.

What is at stake here is safeguarding public trust in state governance in order to prevent social anarchy. That’s why a piecemeal approach in tackling the Cebongan case is so woefully inadequate.

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