Indonesia president tells army to stay out of politics

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JAKARTA, Oct 5 (Reuters) Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono today warned the once-powerful armed forces against returning to politics.

Under former President Suharto, the general who rose to power in an anti-communist coup and who ruled for 32 years, the military had a prominent role.

The military (TNI) had a fixed quota of seats in Indonesia's parliament, its members were involved in running various businesses, and they were frequently accused of human rights abuses.

Since Suharto's downfall amid civil unrest in 1998, the military's political power has been clipped and it has come under pressure to abandon its lucrative business ventures.

''The TNI needs to maintain its consistency in staying out of politics and should not try to find a new way to get involved in politics,'' Yudhoyono said in a speech marking Armed Forces Day at the military headquarters.

Yudhoyono, a former general who spent his entire career in the armed forces, urged the military to continue the reforms that began in 1998 so that it could become a ''professional and capable'' institution.

''Next year, please report to the people of Indonesia on what the TNI has achieved in the first 10 years of internal reform,'' he said.

Yudhoyono, who served in East Timor and studied in the United States, won Indonesia's first direct presidential elections in 2004 on reform pledges.

Indonesia is also trying to clamp down on military business activities, which can sometimes lead to human rights abuses because of disagreements with local communities over mining and timber rights, but human rights groups say there has been little progress.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a report released in June 2006, said the Indonesian military raises money outside the government budget through a sprawling network of legal and illegal businesses, many of which are not controlled by the military's central command.

In 2004, Indonesia passed a law requiring the government to take over all military businesses by 2009 but implementing regulations have yet to be issued.

REUTERS SYU SSC1120

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