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Indonesia's Military Head: Armed Forces Limited by Funding - 2002-08-31

The head of Indonesia's armed forces says the military is as professional as it can be, given Indonesia's current political and economic situation. General Endriartono Sutarto spoke out Friday on the criticism directed at the country's armed forces.

General Endriartono Sutarto says much of the Indonesian armed forces' questionable actions stem from circumstances beyond the military's control.

He says he does not want to make excuses for soldiers in the field who engage in corruption or misuse their power, but he says, the military does not have enough money to pay its soldiers, and corruption is all but unavoidable. He says, for example, that a soldier sent to the provinces is paid only 4,000 rupiah a day to cover meals and other expenses, or 45 cents - only a quarter of what he needs.

The general says, 'the price of eggs is how much? The price of one kilo of rice is how much?' And, he says, the soldier has to cover his own expenses for food and other things. The general says it is up to senior military officers to ensure that soldiers stay honest. 'But with conditions like that, we cannot operate at our optimum level.'

General Endriartono has been the head of the military since May. He commands roughly 340,000 personnel, whose job is to safeguard a country of more than 200 million people stretching across thousands of kilometers.

There have been allegations of widespread human rights abuses by soldiers in recent years, and the military's reputation has suffered at home and abroad as a result. Human rights groups claim the military routinely kills civilians in the provinces of Aceh and West Papua, where it is trying to crush separatist rebellions. The group also says soldiers were responsible for the deaths of student demonstrators in Jakarta in 1998.

General Endriartono criticized the news media for what he said was unfair and inaccurate coverage, especially of the military's actions against the guerilla group known as the free Aceh movement.

He says the press should realize that it is wrong to characterize the rebels as heroes like Robin Hood, who gave money to the poor. He says the press should report more accurately on the methods that the rebels deploy in the province. Earlier this month, the government issued an ultimatum to the Aceh rebels, accept an offer of special autonomy for the province, or face the possibility of a renewed military offensive.

The government is considering deploying 8,000 troops to Aceh to reinforce the 20,000 already there, and placing the province under a state of civil emergency. The government has put some military officers on trial for crimes against humanity, for their alleged involvement in the 1999 destruction of East Timor.