Abri tightens security for MPR meet


THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri) will deploy 15 warships in Jakarta bay to beef up security during this week’s meeting of the country’s highest legislative body.

Navy chief, Rear-Admiral Widodo A.S., underscoring the military’s repeated pledge to safeguard the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), said that warships, navy helicopters and planes would patrol the bay and its surrounding areas during the four-day special session which starts tomorrow.

“We will remain alert,” the Antara national news agency yesterday quoted him as saying. “Our presence at sea will contribute to the security inland.”

He said that the navy would stay alert, even though disruption from the sea was unlikely.

In separate comments last week, he said that the warships, most of them from the navy’s western fleet, would provide tactical support to military units already stationed in the capital.

Military intelligence sources here told The Straits Times that the main function of the ships would be to bring in troop deployments to bolster the 30,000 personnel already stationed in Jakarta.

Noted a senior Abri officer: “This is a contingency plan. If the situation on the ground deteriorates, the ships can bring in large numbers of soldiers from other parts of the country to handle whatever problems that might emerge.

“During the May riots, additional troops were brought into Jakarta in a rather ad hoc manner and slowed our response to rioters. We learnt our lesson. There won’t be a repeat of that this time.”

Describing the situation as “unpredictable”, the source said that two groups of supporters were likely to congregate outside the parliament building. If the situation was not monitored carefully, the two could end up clashing, because of conflicting interests.

Students and reformists have been protesting against the MPR session, which they see as a vestige of the Suharto era and likely to maintain the status quo. They have focused their efforts on making sure the session accommodates their demands.

Others, mainly Islamic groups, have warned that they are prepared to confront anyone trying to disrupt the meeting. Thousands, armed with bamboo batons and sticks, have occupied a parking lot not far from parliament. The 1,000 MPR members will set a date for election next year and pass a slew of decrees to smooth its passage. It is part of the “National Agenda for Reforms” floated by President B.J. Habibie after he took over power from Mr Suharto in May. Working MPR committees have already produced 13 draft decrees to be passed by the body, including one ensuring the presence of the powerful military in the legislature.

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