Incident highlights crisis in military and police

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:00am

Tension remains high in the East Javanese city of Madiun after a petty row at a petrol station escalated into a raging battle between members of the Army Strategic Reserves Command and policemen, leaving three civilians dead and 15 injured.

At a funeral on Tuesday for one of the victims, hundreds of students shouted anti-police and anti-military slogans and demanded a full investigation into the clashes.

The farcical but fatal fight broke out on Saturday night over positions in a queue at a petrol station. Three lieutenants from Infantry Battalion 501 were in the queue when two military policemen pushed in.

'The three lieutenants are friends and they got upset when two men on a motorcycle ignored all the vehicles lining up for gas and cut in front of their car. A heated quarrel erupted between the three officers and the two men,' a military spokesman said.

The men began to argue and matters got out of hand when a large number of infantry battalion members arrived and helped the military policemen.

The brawl led to an attack by about 300 members of the infantry battalion on Madiun police station and three other substations in the town.

One traffic police post was destroyed and other buildings were also attacked and damaged, including the police hospital.

Several police vehicles were destroyed and many police officers seriously injured.

An hour later, more than 50 army members returned to the police precinct and destroyed other buildings.

Two deaths were of students who happened to get in the way and a third was of a high school student who died later from their injuries.

The fighting between soldiers and police forced a humiliating apology from the army chief and highlights how far Indonesia's security forces are from being professional.

More than 20 military officers have been discharged since the Madiun clash.

Clashes of this sort are not new, although this was a startling example, and they come as Indonesia's forces should be tackling much more serious problems.

Residents of Tangerang, near Jakarta, have lynched 42 people in the past nine months as police fail to be trusted to combat crime. People in other areas have run the police out of town or ransacked stations as part of a general decline in law and order.

In April, police and navy officers clashed in the West Java town of Cirebon. A week later in Jayapura, Irian Jaya, a mobile brigade officer was shot dead after he tried to stop a brawl involving local youths.

'I, as the highest chief in the army, apologise for the incident which claimed the lives of those people,' Army Chief of Staff General Endriartono Endriartono said on Tuesday.

Indonesian military chief Admiral Widodo Adisucipto said the incident indicated 'mismanagement of human resources'.

Experts are discussing how such an attack could come about.

One criminologist said better screening during recruitment should be carried out to exclude the 'more aggressive' candidates.

National police chief General Surojo Bimantoro told Parliament that psychological problems, such as the transfer of troops from one crisis area to another without adequate time with their families in between, had led to the clash.

Criminologist Mulyana W. Kusumah was more direct. 'What happened in Madiun indicates a discipline crisis in both the military and the police,' he said.