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Indonesian President Chooses Air Force Chief as New Military Head

16 January 2006

The president of Indonesia has chosen the current air force chief as the new head of the armed forces. The selection is a sign that the government is committed to reforming the military - which had enjoyed vast political influence for decades.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has chosen Air Marshall Djoko Suyanto as the new armed forces chief. It is a crucial post in the battle against terrorism in Indonesia - home to the world's largest Muslim population.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Agung Laksono says he received Mr. Yudhoyono's letter of recommendation on Sunday.

If approved by parliament, Suyanto will replace the outgoing armed forces chief, General Endriartono Sutarto - who has largely been credited with keeping the military out of politics since his appointment in 2002.

This is the first time an Air Force officer has been chosen over the more powerful army and navy. Military analyst Indria Samego says this shows Mr. Yudhoyono is proving serious about military reform.

"It means … move from politics and go deeply into more defense oriented development. Indonesia is an open big country and we need the real improvement in that matter," he said.

The once all-powerful army was seen as brutal and repressive under the 32-year dictatorship of former president Suharto.

But since Suharto was ousted in 1998, subsequent democratically elected presidents have worked to keep the military out of politics. The armed forces have since been stripped of seats in parliament and its participation in commercial ventures.

The United States acknowledged progress in Indonesia's reforms when it restored full military ties in November, stressing the importance of cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

The U.S. severed defense relations in 1999 when Indonesia's military was implicated in human rights abuses and violence as East Timor voted for its independence.

However the Suyanto appointment is expected to upset nationalist lawmakers who wanted former army general Ryamizard Ryacudu, an advocate of tough policies against Indonesia's various separatist movements.

Indonesia has also suffered from a spate of deadly terrorist attacks over the last three years, blamed on the regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah.

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