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Indonesian Military Reinstates Controversial Surveillance Network

The Indonesian military is reinstating its much-criticized surveillance network to help in the fight against terrorists blamed for a series of deadly attacks in the country. But, rights groups fear the network will pave the way for abuses.

Indonesia's military chief General Endriartono Sutarto has officially ordered regional commanders to revive the community-based intelligence system known as Koter, or territorial command.

Plans to revive the network were drawn up when the government ordered the military to join the fight against terrorism following suicide bomb attacks on the island of Bali last month killing 20 people.

Until now the police and the national intelligence agency have been responsible for anti-terrorism activities, with the military assisting only when needed.

Under the surveillance system, thousands of non-commissioned officers known as Babinsa, monitor suspicious activity at the village level.

The nationwide system was abolished after the fall of Indonesian dictator Suharto, who ruled for more than three decades until forced to resign in 1998.

Rights groups fear the revival of the Koter system - which Suharto used to silence dissent - will damage the country's newly-established democracy and lead to human-rights abuses.

Arbi Sanit is a political analyst at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. He says the government's plan to revive the military surveillance network could lead to chaos because it relies on locals informing on each other.

"One of the most dangerous in the planning is the Koter," said Arbi Sanit. "The use of Babinsa, I think, is very dangerous because the society cannot give us who is a terrorist, who is not a terrorist."

During the past few weeks, the Indonesian government has brushed aside fears raised by proposals to re-establish the network, saying it will not sacrifice the country's fledgling democracy.

The government says the reintroduction of the Koter system will strengthen the fight against Islamic militants from the regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah.

The terrorist group has been blamed for last month's bombings in Bali and was behind another attack on the island in 2002 that killed 202 people, including many foreign tourists. It has also been blamed for the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people, and the 2004 bombing outside the Australian embassy that claimed 10 lives.

Police have arrested dozens of militants for the earlier bombings, but are still searching for the perpetrators of last month's Bali attack.