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 After 63 years, notorious Kopassus learns to smile

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BerichtOnderwerp: After 63 years, notorious Kopassus learns to smile    do 16 apr 2015 - 22:18

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Thu, April 16 2015

To smile, greet and shake hands (3S) may seem like trivial things to civilians, but for the personnel of Kopassus, the Army’s notorious special forces, they sound like backbreaking labor. In their dictionary, only three words stand out: rage, glare and punch (3M).

But that may soon change.

In the last four months, several billboards have been installed in the force’s headquarters in Cijantung, East Jakarta, advising all personnel to do the 3S and avoid doing the 3M.

Every day, during the morning command service, personnel are required to greet the public and help end the force’s long-perceived intimidating appearance.

“I even taught them how to smile sincerely and to get used to it,” Kopassus commander Maj. Gen. Doni Monardo, 51, said recently.

Starting with the little things, Kopassus is now taking a small step that may lead to a big leap as it strives to insert a humane touch into its interactions with civilians and overcome the unit’s gruesome history of extra-judicial killing and kidnapping.

Since the reform movement of 1998, the Kopassus is no longer synonymous with accomplishments.

The public has largely associated the unit with three particular incidents: the 1998 kidnapping of students and political activists, the 2001 killing of Theys Eluay, Papua’s most prominent separatist leader, and the 2013 raid on Cebongan prison in Yogyakarta that resulted in the killing of four detainees suspected of murdering a Kopassus officer.

“Because of that, all of our accomplishments seemed to evaporate into thin air,” said Doni, a former commander of the Presidential Security Detail (Paspampres) during the last term of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“Changes are coming and I mean it,” he said.

For the first time in history, the elite unit recently opened up its doors, welcoming scores of human rights activists and journalists to its headquarters.

They were given the opportunity to interact with officers, to ask questions and debate them, including with those of Group III, the force’s most clandestine unit feared by the US and its allies.

“Such a meeting is part of our commitment to be open to the public. We receive funds from the taxpayers and we realize they have the right to know what we’re doing and what we’ll do next,” said Doni.

“But, of course, details on military operations are off limits.”

For Doni, his quest to improve the unit’s long-tarnished image does not end with just being open.

He has taken the Kopassus to the next level: embracing its former enemies and their relatives.

In its upcoming 63rd anniversary celebration on April 29 — although the force’s anniversary actually falls on April 16 — the Kopassus will not merely engage in the usual parade and display of its capabilities.

The force is organizing a historic event to which it will invite more than 300 of its former enemies who used to fight for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Former separatist fighters from Timor Leste, a nation once part of Indonesia before it gained independence in 2002, are also on the list.

“The families of Theys and Cebongan victims as well as the kidnapped activists are also invited,” said Doni.

Aimed at forging reconciliation, the meeting will serve as a turning point for the Kopassus to end the cycle of vengeance and to help its campaign for the promotion of human rights.

“Appreciation should be given for the gesture of reconciliation. It’s a good start for Kopassus to build the spirit of friendship,” said Haris Azhar of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

“But still, all individuals who used to serve in the force and inflicted gross violations of human rights should not be forgotten. The public should always demand their accountability,” he said.

Unlike his predecessors, Doni is regarded as a Kopassus commando who does not carry a past burden of human rights violations, although his tour of duties included East Timor (as Timor Leste is known) and Aceh.

“There is this consciousness among the younger officers to have a new Kopassus that distances itself from the past violations profoundly associated with the force,” said Haris.

Kopassus has around 6,000 personnel, or more than 1 percent of Indonesia’s 470,000 military (TNI) staff. The unit is divided mainly into Group I and Group II, whose functions include jungle warfare, unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency and special reconnaissance.

Group III handles combat intelligence, while SAT-81 Gultor deals with counterterrorism.

Shortly after taking command in September 2014, Doni has made a new rule of thumb in relation to forging discipline among personnel in the wake of the Cebongan incident.

“I told them that I never want to hear the long-held creed suggesting Kopassus personnel can get away with crimes as long as they don’t get caught. If you commit a crime you will be punished,” said Doni in his recent remarks to staff and journalists.

While praising Doni’s internal reforms and his breakthrough in improving Kopassus’ interactions with the public, military expert Mufti Makarim warned that the force would always be dragged down by a string of unresolved cases.

“There are still unresolved cases that need to be pursued to uncover the real masterminds. No high-ranking officers have taken responsibility in the cases,” he said.

Prosecutions in regard to the incidents have only involved low- and mid-ranking officers.

Doni said he was aware that it would take quite some time for Kopassus to absolve itself of its sins, but that should not be a stumbling block to prevent the unit from doing positive work.

“If all the negatives are not countered, it will risk discouraging many potential graduates from joining the military,” he said.

“Can you image what will be left of the TNI in the future if all officers are of poor quality? It will increase the likelihood of them launching a military coup.”

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