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TNI - POLRI, united to combat terrorist

Indonesia's military will play a greater role in combating terrorism, supporting police on major investigations and responding to attacks, the head of the country's new national counter-terrorism agency says.

However, Ansyaad Mbai said the military's activities would be curbed by regulations, including making them accountable ''by civilian law'' and restricting their use of firearms.

Mr Ansyaad also revealed, in an interview with the Herald, the armed forces were already involved in tracking militants in Sumatra, where three police were shot dead last week in retaliation for anti-terrorism raids that resulted in 18 suspected terrorists either killed or arrested.

The enhanced position of the military is a significant shift for Indonesia, where the police have dominated counter-terrorism activity since mass casualty attacks emerged in the archipelago with the bombings in Bali in 2002.

But there has been a change of thinking as Indonesia's terrorist threat changes, with militant cells uncovered plotting to attack pillars of the Indonesian state, including the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the police using high-powered weapons as well as explosives.

While the police elite counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, would remain in the lead in fighting terrorism, it would be joined on a new taskforce by representatives of the military, Mr Ansyaad said. Asked if it meant the TNI, as the military is known by its Indonesian initials, would have a greater role, Mr Ansyaad said: ''Yes, before the TNI was passive.''

It's a development that has alarmed human-rights activists and some terrorism analysts, with fears it means a tilt back to the authoritarian ways of the dictatorship of General Suharto. ''It is a big concern since the TNI is a combat force,'' said Al Araf, a human rights activist from Imparsial. ''That is why the President must issue basic rules about their role.''

But Mr Ansyaad played down the concerns, saying the role of the TNI would be similar to militaries in other countries and that tough regulations were being drafted. ''Once they enter the rubric of law enforcement, they will have to follow the regulations on the use of firearms that are used by police,'' he said.

''They can only be used in an emergency situation and accountability would be based on the civilian law.'' Mr Ansyaad's agency, known as the BNPT, would have several taskforces answerable ultimately to Mr Yudhoyono.

The TNI would be present on the primary taskforce charged with overseeing and co-ordinating major investigations and responding to attacks. Other taskforces will deal with issues such as countering the ideological message of violent jihadism.

The presidential regulation creating the BNPT allows the TNI to step in where there is a ''gap in police capability''


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