Police Army Wars in Maluku

Mar 7th, 2006, in News, by

The violence that occurred in Ambon, Maluku between the police and army, which we looked at in the Ambon shootings story, has its origins in a number of factors, both long term trends and recent events.

According to Media Indonesia the immediate trigger that caused police and army personnel to come to blows and almost saw the city of Ambon descend into a kind of civil war, was the fatal knifing of a policeman by a group of young men who were thought to be serving soldiers. The police then took their revenge by killing an army man. Then the two groups almost descended into open warfare.

Such events are fairly common and are usually sparked off by some trivial incident. (The worst incidence of conflict happened several years ago in the village of Binjai. By local standards, the mother of all battles took place between the 100th Infantry Battalion and the local police and many lives were lost including among the civilian population.) A disrespectful look in the street, a refusal by army personnel to have their ID checked by policeman, an accidental bumping of shoulders in a crowded market - all such things, when involving heavily armed men in a tense part of the country, have the potential to spiral out of control as tempers flare and men rush to the aid and defence of their mates.

However these are as mentioned mere triggers while the causes of such disputes and violence between the two arms of the security forces go much deeper than this and have a long history. As all too often in Indonesia one of these causes is money, money, money, specifically the turf wars over control of the some of the pleasures-of-the-night industries, brothels, bar, discos, and gambling dens, and, so it is said, drugs. Also other more prosaic businesses are fought over, such as the provision of security for factories and industrial areas.

Another cause is the separation of the military from the police. Previously the military and police had been two branches of the same service, ABRI, but under the government of Megawati the armed forces were split off in order to make clear that they had one main role, that of defence of the country. As a result of this the army lost administrative control over areas that were under State of Emergency laws such as Maluku to the police, but, they were still called upon for internal security duties where they have to work closely with police, but now, the two groups no longer share the same organisation and often feel little camaraderie.

Additionally, with the loss of formal control over the disaster area of Ambon also went the loss of many business opportunities and this of course heightened the ill-will felt towards the police, while at the same time the police were often seen as ill-equipped and ill-prepared to properly carry out their new duties.

Media Indonesia believes that the problem is a masalah perut, a problem of the stomach, or hunger, and recommends as its solution the increasing of salaries for serving men and police. A simple-minded solution no doubt. Men have to eat, and have to be able to feed their families but I don't think anyone is suggesting that uniformed men are in the depths of poverty and their children go barefoot and hungry. The problems with the security forces are far more deep-seated than the matter of low pay, and are the problems of the whole country and culture, an unwillingness to put duty, loyalty, love of service, and professionalism above base concerns, above personal greed and jealousy at those who have more. The obsession with things, owning things, what is usually called materialism, is a terrible blight on Indonesians and affects them more than even westerners. Greed is not good.


3 Comments on “Police Army Wars in Maluku”

  1. avatar Felis says:

    What are the property rights laws like in Indonesia?
    So called greed very often is just a mere reflection of people being totally detached from the “ownership” in general.
    The idea then is to exploit as much as you can because tomorrow you probably won’t be here or you won’t have the opportunity to do so.
    The same kind of behaviour could’ve been observed in communist Poland on all levels.
    E.g. – Doctors worked for government salaries and so their “position” would become their opportunity/business to make money – bribes, selling medicines etc.

    Are the soldiers and policemen all local folks or strangers sent in by the government?

  2. avatar David says:

    I think property rights are not a big problem overall. I’m not sure how what you say relates to the police/military but certainly people have the attitude of taking what they can get and quick about it.

    I think the soldiers come from outside maluku and even some of the police, the mobile brigade police who often get moved around. But yes generally there might be an outsider-local element to it as well as a tribal religious one in that many of the police are Christian, not all though, and most of the soldiers are Muslim.

  3. avatar Felis says:

    I general terms if the property is considered “common” it becomes devastaded by the users.
    Appears like greed but in fact greed is always with us and it there is no single group or person free of this vice. Ownership forces us to manage rather than plunder for quick profit.
    When we “feel” ownership of our surrondings we tend to look after them.

    It all starts with the base, of the local property/business owners.
    If they feel secure and treat their properties as something that nobody can take from them and they and their families will (potentially) own it for generations to come) it creates stability and good management of the local resources.
    This reflects upon peacufull co-existance between the locals ant this upon the local law enforcement and so on and so on.
    This is why I asked about the property rights.
    In most south American countries land belongs to rthe state ind it is either leased or given on the basis of rights to cultivate.
    Results are devastating to both; the environment and human relationship.
    Plounder, bribes and killings at night.

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