by Markus Junianto Sihaloho

The Indonesian Military chief has confirmed claims by a rights
activist that the armed forces are actively carrying out
intelligence gathering in Papua, and defended the move as
crucial for national security.

On Tuesday, former journalist Allan Nairn, co-founder of the
East Asian Timor Advocacy Network, posted a 25-page document
on his Web site that he said had been prepared in 2007 by the
Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) in Jayapura, the provincial
capital.

The document details plans to gag prominent rights activists and
government critics through smear campaigns and intimidation,
after infiltrating their churches, NGOs, universities and rights
groups.

On Thursday, Adm. Agus Suhartono, the recently appointed chief
of the Indonesian Military, admitted that they were involved in
intelligence gathering operations, but only to guard against
threats to the nation’s sovereignty and to back up police
operations there.

He rejected the idea that gathering intelligence among civilians
was wrong, saying all intelligence operations in Papua served to
detect and prevent separatist threats.

“What we’re doing is maximizing the use of our intelligence unit
for the sake of the military and the country,” Agus said.

He added the operations were always carried out by officers sent
over from the military’s central command, including from
Kopassus and other elite units.

Agus said that while he had not yet been able to confirm the
validity of the document posted by Nairn, he deplored the fact
that such a document could have been leaked.

“I will stress to my subordinates the importance of maintaining
security, to prevent any future leaks of information.”

Meanwhile, intelligence analyst Wawan Purwanto said the military
was justified in carrying out whatever operations it deemed
necessary in Papua, given the continued activities of the
separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM).

“It’s impossible for the country to close its eyes to such a
threat,” he said.

Wawan argued that intelligence gathering was a common practice
in most countries, as it was necessary to assess information
about a threat before drawing up policies to deal with it.

“So it’s perfectly legal to conduct such operations. The
intelligence gathered helps inform the country’s future policy
direction,” he said.

Mahfudz Siddiq, chairman of House of Representatives Commission
I, which oversees defense and foreign affairs, agreed the
military’s intelligence gathering tactics in Papua were
necessary.

“The military is obliged to guard border areas, and besides,
they have to deal with the OPM there,” he said.

Mahfudz added that while Papua was not technically a military
operation zone, like in Aceh during the height of the
secessionist struggle there, covert operations should not be
considered illegal.

“That’s just a routine non-war military operation allowed by the
law,” he said.

However, he said his commission would seek an explanation from
the military about the issue later this month.