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Indonesian army revives community service programme
Publication Date : 19-09-2013
The Indonesian Military (TNI) is reviving the community service program that was popularly known as ABRI Masuk Desa (AMD) during the New Order era.
There are reservations that the programme could potentially be abused by certain political elites to garner support for the upcoming 2014 elections.
Under the revamped programme, which is called TNI Manunggal Membangun Desa (TMMD), members of the TNI will be deployed to villages to build infrastructure and teach civic and defense strategy to the public.
The new program, which is to be implemented twice every year, is a continuation of the Soeharto-era ABM, which was terminated soon after the fall of the Army general’s authoritarian regime in 1998.
Soeharto used the AMD as a tool to spy on any form of resistance toward his rule and to gain political support from villagers across the country for him to remain in power.
Army chief of staff Gen. Budiman gave assurances on Wednesday that the program would not be a repeat of the ABM, although its format was quite similar.
“We have no intention to enter into the civilian arena. As I said early on, my goal is to improve the military’s professionalism by putting soldiers in the right places in this democratic state,” he said during a press conference in Central Jakarta on Wednesday.
The first implementation of the program which will run from Oct. 9 to 29, a mere six months before the 2014 presidential election will also involve 1,000 recent university graduates selected by the Youth and Sports Ministry.
The programme will leverage infrastructure development and public awareness programs in 61 regencies, 77 sub-districts and 99 villages across the country.
For the infrastructure projects, the military will help local residents build roads, bridges, mosques and other public facilities. For public awareness, the military, along with the new graduates, will counsel villagers about defense, rural prosperity, HIV/AIDS and other social issues.
Al-Araf, an analyst from the human rights organisation Imparsial and a former lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University, said that the community service programme could easily be abused for political objectives, especially in the run-up toward the 2014 general elections.
“I think this activity could also be used by certain political parties to gain grassroots support in the villages,” he said.
Al-Araf also said that the military was not the ideal institution to be teaching villagers about state defense or civic education.
“Teaching state defense or civic education is the responsibility of local governments, not the military. Instead of teaching villagers, the TNI needs to focus on its readiness for preventing war or being involved in international peacekeeping operations,” he said.
In recent years, the TNI has made inroads into having a greater role in politics.
Earlier this month, the Army signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on counterterrorism with the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).
Under the agreement, the military will be allowed to actively assist members of the public in tracing terror suspects or activities.
In July, the army signed a MoU with the Trade Ministry to prevent smuggling at borders and ensure the smooth distribution of goods across the country. The agreement allows the army to send troops to border areas to prevent illegal goods from entering the country.
The TNI will also help the government build 14 new highways, totaling 1,520 kilometers in length, in Papua and West Papua over the next two years.
The heavy infrastructure development was recommended by the Presidential Unit to Accelerate the Development of Papua and West Papua (UP4B), as there are no private contractors that have the ability to do the job within the allocated budget of 1.5 trillion Indonesian rupiah (US$135.23 million).
Following the fall of the Soeharto regime, the new civilian government made efforts to abolish the military’s sociopolitical role, which had been known as half of the military’s dual function (Dwi fungsi).
In 1999, the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI), which comprised the Police, the Army (TNI AD), the Navy (TNI AL) and the Air Force (TNI AU), changed its name to the Indonesian Military (TNI) and excluded the National Police.