Discipline of Kopassus in question

Discipline of Kopassus in question
Kopassus members (from left) Kodik, Sugeng Sumaryanto and Ucok Tigor Simbolon were sentenced to six, eight and 11 years in prison respectively, following the killing of four detainees in a March 9 raid on a Yogyakarta prison by Kopassus troops.

The relatively heavy punishment given to three of the 12 special forces (Kopassus) troops accused of executing four murder suspects, in an audacious March 9 raid on a Yogyakarta prison, may have gone some way towards erasing the much-criticised culture of impunity the Indonesian military has enjoyed for decades.

But as open as it was, the court martial still raises troubling questions about discipline in the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), whether Kopassus officers were complicit in the crime, and why the defendants received such overwhelming public support.

The three main perpetrators - two second-sergeants and a corporal - were given jail terms ranging from six to 11 years for killing the four detainees, who had been arrested over the stabbing death of an off-duty Kopassus soldier in a Yogyakarta night club three days earlier.

Nine other soldiers received jail terms of up to 21 months. But unlike those involved in the actual shooting inside one of the prison's crowded cells, all were controversially allowed to stay in service after serving their sentences.

The punishment handed down on Sept5 by the Yogyakarta military court was lighter than the minimum term of 20 years' imprisonment demanded by prosecutors, leading to renewed demands from human rights groups that soldiers accused of crimes be tried in civil courts.

But even civil courts have been notoriously inconsistent on sentencing dictates. Look no further than the amnesty-shortened 15-year sentence given to Tommy Suharto, the former president's youngest son, for ordering the 2002 slaying of a Supreme Court justice.

Both the Central Java army commander and the Yogyakarta police chief were sacked over the prison raid, with media reports since then referring to alleged wiretapped conversations among senior officers discussing retaliation for the soldier's murder.

The executed men were all local gangsters with rap sheets that included murder, rape and drug-dealing. Their records and the horrific nature of the murder, in which the victim was smashed over the head with a bottle, kicked repeatedly and stabbed 17 times, perhaps explains the court's leniency.

The four assailants were quickly rounded up. A fifth man, who was not charged, but was identified in closed-circuit TV footage, was fatally shot outside his house five months later while the trial was ongoing.

No action seems to have been taken against the superiors of the vengeful soldiers for failing to stop them leaving the training ground of Kopassus Group 2, one of two Red Beret regiments specialising in counter-insurgency and unconventional warfare.

The promising career of Group2 commander Maruli Simanjuntak, a Boston University master's graduate in finance, was saved by the fact that he had been on the job only a few hours.

The son-in-law of former trade minister and special forces veteran Luhut Panjaitan, he took full responsibility at a meeting called by army chief-of-staff Pramono Edhie Wibowo, a career Kopassus officer himself, to inquire into the incident.

After Gen Wibowo heard how long he had been there, he told him not to worry.

He also reportedly exonerated Lieutenant-Colonel Simanjuntak's predecessor, Colonel Suhadi, now the Kopassus inspector, who offered to share in the blame as well.

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