Indonesia's Defend the Nation programme not weapons training

I wish to clarify some of the points raised in the Reuters report of June 11 ("Weapons training for 'gangsters' triggers concern").

The Bela Negara, or Defend the Nation, programme has legal basis in the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia, which stipulates that "every citizen has the right and duty to participate in the defence of the country, and the rules governing defence shall be regulated by law", as well as the Law of National Defence No. 3/2002.

The programme was started as an effort to strengthen moral integrity, discipline and nationalistic values.

The purpose of the programmeis to instil patriotic thoughts and attitudes, strengthen national identity, including to raise awareness on the need to defend the country.

The programme, therefore, will strengthen participants' loyalty to Pancasila as the country's ideology, and strengthen people's willingness to sacrifice for the nation.

Participants should be mentally and physically sound enough to take part in the programme that will be conducted over one month, with a pre-determined curriculum.

The programme is an initiative of the Ministry of Defence. Contrary to the report, it is not carried out by the military, but by provincial governments, with the assistance of the military and police.

Participants are selected by provincial governments and are divided into three age groups: six to 17 years, 18 and above, and those qualified to teach the programme.

In order to participate, certain criteria have to be met, including the absence of a criminal record.

Participants are also divided by their backgrounds into three main groups: those from education, such as teachers and lecturers; societal figures, comprising youth leaders, religious leaders, community leaders and traditional leaders; and other prominent individuals chosen by provincial governments.

The programme is not intended for street thugs or gangsters, as the report states, and does not provide "semi-military" weapons training.

In carrying out the programme, instructors use educational materials, writing objects and other instruments, such as compasses and maps. Weapons are not used as teaching materials.

The instructors of the programme are experts in economics, political and socio-cultural affairs, as well as military and police matters.

Civilians make up 70 per cent of the instructors, while the remainder is made up of military and police personnel.

The programme is not meant to replace the role of the army in any way, nor is it meant to arm civilians so they would go around playing soldiers.

I Gede Ngurah Swajaya

Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Indonesia's Defend the Nation programme not weapons training'. Print Edition | Subscribe