Letter: Lessons for Indonesia

Dr C. W. Watson
Friday 05 June 1998 23:02

Sir: Like Paul Barber (letter, 2 June) I am appalled by the abuses of human rights perpetrated by the Indonesian armed forces. And like D F Hagger (letter, 2 June) I deplore the way in which army personnel are dikaryakan, the Indonesian term for the placing of military men in bureaucratic positions - a process, incidentally, begun under Sukarno in the 1950s and not initiated by Suharto.

Both correspondents, however, fail to engage with the arguments of those with considerable experience of Indonesia who recognise that within the armed forces there is good as well as bad, and that every attempt should be made through teaching fora, such as the Centre for Security Studies at Hull University, to expose Indonesian officers to a tradition of open debate. By doing this one hopes to give encouragement to those who are men of principle and who are trying to persuade their colleagues round to understanding and working for democratic freedoms.

The point is very similar to that made in relation to the Northern Ireland peace negotiations. While the extremist actions in the past of those who were represented in the negotiations were regarded by most of us with abhorrence it was generally accepted that there needed to be some move towards dialogue. It was only those like the Rev Ian Paisley who refused to sit down with those whom he regarded as murderers.


Department of Anthropology

Eliot College

University of Kent at Canterbury

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