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When Its Army and Police Shoot at Each Other, Indonesia Fixes It by Partying Down

The institutional rivalry between Indonesia's army and a police special forces unit turned violent during a siege on Batam island... and was quickly followed by a pop concert.
Photo via Flickr

Indonesia's government threw a concert for the army and police at the site of a recent six-hour shootout between the two, in an effort to bring the security forces together.

The island of Batam became the center of a national crisis last week, when 30 soldiers from the army deployment laid siege to the barracks of the Brigade Mobil (Brimob), an Indonesian police special forces unit. They fired on the building and refused orders from their commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Eko Margiyono, to stand down.


Matters escalated when soldiers refused mediation from Batam's Deputy Governor Soerya Respationo, who after arriving on the scene was forced to take refuge in the police station along with several journalists.

"The soldiers are firing at us," Soerya reportedly told local media. "We're surrounded," .

The siege, which left army First Pvt. Jack Marpaung dead, only ended after hundreds of locals stormed into the barracks in support of police.

The chiefs of Indonesia's national police and army flew to Batam on Friday to restore order and pull their forces back from the conflict. Meanwhile, they came up with a novel idea to relieve the tension between the two forces.

"I suggested a solution to bring both Brimob members and military personnel to mingle through a cultural performance, because culture does not make any distinctions between religious or any other backgrounds," Gen. Gatot Nurmantyio, the chief of the Indonesia military, told the Jakarta Post.

The government chose to throw a concert at the Brimob headquarters that had been under siege. Indonesian pop star Dewi Persik and a girl band called Trio Macan were flown in to bring the two groups together. Persik, dressed in skimpy white outfit embellished with faux-military decoration, posted videos of her performance to Instagram.

Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University, told VICE News that the outbreak of violence exposes long rivalries between the two forces.


"There's bad blood between the army and the police going back a long way," he said. "The Brimob used to be a part of the army, so they're the younger brother. It's an institutional rivalry, and once in a while it bubbles over. Last year the military invaded a police office in Sumatra."

That police office in Sumatra was burned down by 90 soldiers, who also stabbed six police during an attack in March 2013. The incident reportedly began when a police officer shot a soldier dead over a traffic violation.

According to the commanding officer of the army unit on Batam, a similar situation sparked this siege.

"As they were filling up their motorcycle at a gas station, two Brimob members were also filling gas at the same place. They stared each other out causing offense, which then resulted in a fight," he told the Jakarta Post.

But there could be a more sinister catalyst. During a raid at a fuel storage facility on September 21, police arrested several members of the army for providing protection to illegal fuel smugglers. Four army personnel were wounded by gunfire.

"The role of police and military people in backing such businesses keeps growing and becomes uncontainable," Neta S. Pane, the chair of Indonesian Police Watch, told the Jakarta Post.

Batam, which is the closest Indonesian territory to Singapore, received an influx of army troops this year after the Indonesian government announced a major reinforcement of the entire Riau Islands province. The move was prompted by Chinese territorial claims that included waters that Indonesia claims as its own.

"This reinforcement of the islands has actually been going on since 2006, and the China issue is actually good for the military," Sulaiman said. "It's being used as a reason for them to need more money, more bases, more assets from the government."

It might be good for the military, but their presence might not be good for Batam or the people who live there.

Follow Scott Mitchell on Twitter: @s_mitchell

Photo via Flickr