Saturday, October 31, 1998

Financial meltdown in Thailand exposes fragility of Indonesia

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA , 31 Oct. 1997 - Four months ago people in the world's fourth most populous nation were still absorbed in attending jam-packed housing exhibitions and taking out loans to buy new homes as Thailand was draining its national reserves in an ill-fated attempt to save its currency.

In just 45 days, all of that has changed. Today, Indonesians are guarding their diminishing assets and hoping a regional financial crisis that began when speculators battered the Thai and Indonesian currencies will soon come to an end. That hope, though, is growing dimmer as the crisis continues to spread.

Government officials, optimistic as usual, said Indonesia would not be affected by the regional crisis that resulted when the Thai government permitted the baht to float on July 2 and, despite some misgivings, people continued to consume expensive imported goods and brandish their credit cards, convinced that Indonesia's economic fundamentals were stronger than those of Thailand.

Indonesia's total debt-to-GDP ratio was 109.5 per cent, considerably lower than Thailand's 197.9 per cent, and its current account deficit as a percentage of GDP was 3.4 per cent compared with an alarming 8.9 per cent for the Thai economy.

On top of that, some 20 years of constant economic growth averaging about 7 per cent a year and careful attention to the advice of the World Bank, whose Jakarta office is the second largest after its headquarters in Washington DC, had created a strong impression that President Suharto was right when he declared the Indonesian "miracle" to be underway.

Confident of the economy's resilience, officials continued to convince people not to worry as their Thai neighbours started to lose thousands of jobs, abandon construction sites and even cut up their credit cards.

Indonesia's foreign debt stands at about US$110 billion, about $65 billion of which is in private hands. Short-term debt was estimated at about $25 billion, considerably less than Thailand's estimated $45 billion.

Yet speculators did not buy the government line and soon attacked the rupiah and other regional currencies, including the Malaysian ringgit. Bank Indonesia, the central bank, continued channelling greenbacks into the market to stabilise the battered currency.

In addition to the speculators, who include Hungarian-born financier George Soros, Indonesia's huge conglomerates bought more dollars to pay their overdue foreign loans. Slowly, Bank Indonesia's foreign reserves, estimated at $20 billion, began to be drained of hard currency and the government became alarmed.

For most of the public, the first real shock came when Indonesian Finance Minister Mar'ie Muhammad and Bank Indonesia Governor Sudradjad Djiwandono announced on Aug 14 that the Indonesian government had decided to float the rupiah just as Thailand floated the baht.

Within a month and a half following the baht's de facto devaluation, everything had changed in Jakarta. The rupiah plunged from around Rp3,400 to the dollar to more than Rp4,000 in mid-September. There were no more statements about the rupiah being stronger than the baht.

Bank Indonesia also made a number of other decisions aimed at keeping the remaining dollars in Indonesia.

Indonesia's economic free-fall is now seen as a case of free markets exposing the weaknesses of the country's basic economy.

Indonesia watcher David Jenkins of the Sidney Morning Herald called Bank Indonesia's attempts to stabilise the currency "largely cosmetic", and other analysts predicted that sooner or later, just like Thailand, Indonesia would seek the International Monetary Fund's help.

Unlike democratic Thailand, though, where elections are heatedly contested, Indonesia is suffering from a serious image problem. It has a reputation for extensive corruption and wholesale cronyism.

Perhaps more troubling to Western countries, it is probably best known for its abysmal human rights record.

In neighbouring Asean countries such as Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, business executives and government officials know they cannot place major investments in Indonesia without involving Suharto's children, whose business activities range from infrastructure to media, from operating satellites to managing taxis.

Not surprisingly, there is fear among foreign investors about the political stability of a country led by an ageing president with no obvious successor.

The 77-year old Suharto, who is widely expected to win a seventh five- year term in office in March, decided on Oct 8 that his administration should seek help from the Washington-based IMF to help restore confidence in Indonesia.

Four IMF bankers arrived in Jakarta the following week and have since been involved in negotiations on a $2 billion bailout. IMF Asia-Pacific director Hubert Neiss, one of the architects that shaped the IMF bailout of Thailand, also met with Suharto to discuss the new credit line.

The negotiations, like those for a $1 billion IMF credit line in July to the Philippines and the $17.2 billion international bailout for Thailand in August, are using accelerated rules drawn up after Mexico sought help in 1995.

Experts said Indonesia's high foreign exchange reserve might encourage the IMF to offer a smaller package, yet concern that a large package would be needed to reassure jumpy markets could point to a larger deal.

The IMF is expected to pressure the Indonesian government to scrap monopolies on staple products such as soyabean, cooking oil and flour, but not sugar or rice. Analysts also said the international institution is to ask the under-performing banking sector to be closed or merged as well as for subsidised petrol and diesel prices to be increased.

It is unlikely that Indonesia's controversial car project, for which exclusive tax and tariff concessions have been granted to presidential son Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, will be scrapped.

Suharto, however, has received more help than embattled Thai Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. Singapore agreed to lend as much as $10 billion, while Malaysia is prepared to channel $1 billion in addition to Japan's offer of unspecified financial assistance.

The assistance of both Singapore and Malaysia is based on bilateral agreements, although both countries support the IMF package. Yet analysts reacted with disbelief to Suharto's remarks that Singapore had offered the $10 billion in help.

"It's incredible. I'm surprised by the sum of money. $10 billion dollars is more than expected, even though we know Singapore can well afford it," a Singapore-based economist said.

Thursday, October 29, 1998

Minister who killed journalists?

A minister helping the Indonesian press is alleged to be the man behind the killings of journalists in East Timor. Andreas Harsono writes.

INDONESIAN Information Minister Muhammad Yunus got the first protest just a few days after taking office in May. More than two dozen Indonesian journalists staged a protest inside the compound of his office in Jakarta, asking Yunus to release Indonesian journalists in prison and to free Indonesian media from government censorship.

Surprisingly Yunus decided to let the protesters come into his office and held a one-hour impromptu meeting. Some senior journalists like Goenawan Mohamad of the Tempo weekly magazine and Atmakusumah Astraatmadja of the Dr Soetomo Press Institute joined the protesters and aired their demands that the newly-installed President BJ Habibie administration free the media.

''Insya Allah, I will fulfil your demands but I cannot promise,'' said Yunus who repeatedly used the ''God willing'' phrase when talking about his future policy. The minister needed only two weeks to prove that he meant it.

In early June Yunus announced a number of ministerial decrees which basically deregulated the print media publication procedure, freed journalists to set up their respective unions, reduced the compulsory relay of the state-owned RRI news reports over private radios and allowed the relaunch of the Tempo and DeTIK weeklies banned in 1994.

In a related development, the Habibie government also pardoned and released several Indonesian journalists who were jailed for ''defaming the government'' and ''for sowing hatred against the government'' of former President Suharto.

Many political observers here believed that Yunus had made a major decision. Some noted journalists even said that his decision is actually the most important, if not the only, contribution of the Habibie administration in democratising Indonesia.

Others said Yunus, who is still an active army lieutenant general, had brought more changes than any other information minister in the modern history of Indonesia. He has issued more publishing licences than any other ministers since Indonesia gained its independence in 1945.

But the question remains the same. Is this the man who ordered his troops to kill five Australian journalists in the border town of Balibo in East Timor when Indonesian forces were invading the former Portuguese colony in October 1975?

Many Australian media reported that Yunus is actually the army officer of the Kopassandha special command who had led the attack in Balibo and blasted everything in sight with AK-47 assault rifles and RPG-2 rockets.

An East Timorese told Australia's ABC feature programme that he was part of the force which attacked Balibo and saw Indonesian soldiers under the command of a ''Major Andreas'' -- supposedly the nickname of Yunus -- fire into the house where the journalists were sheltering.

Olandino Maia Guterres claimed to have seen much more, including the stripping of the bodies and dressing of them in Portuguese uniforms so that they could be photographed. In short, Guterres said Yunus had ordered the killing of the journalists.

Yunus himself has repeatedly denied his involvement. In a number of conversations with foreign visitors, which include representatives of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Toronto-based International Freedom of Expression Clearing House, he simply said he does not know the Australian journalists.

''I am not involved in that case, I deny the allegation. I never got any information about the journalists, I never met the journalists,'' Yunus once said.

The journalists who died at Balibo on October 16, 1975, were Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart, of Seven News in Melbourne, and Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters, both of National Nine News in Sydney.

Yunus himself has maintained there was ''no need'' to reopen the investigation, and has denied the new allegations could damage his career as part of the reformist Habibie government.

When meeting senior journalists, the general prefers to talk about his love of sports. Yunus is widely known among army circles as a sports maniac who himself trained his two adopted East Timorese sons to become national players and sent his son to practice golfing in the United States.

But unlike their Australian counterparts, Indonesian media have shied away from reporting the call to reinvestigate the killings, as if trying to say that the case is over and they do not want to expose any controversy surrounding a person who has almost helped them to open up the media. ''It's not the appropriate time,'' quipped a veteran journalist.

The Jakarta Post, the leading English-language newspaper here, quoted a wire report on a statement made by the Committee to Protect Journalists, questioning whether the minister is actually the man who had ordered the killing of the journalists.

Other mainstream news organisations remained silent. Perhaps, a reinvestigation will bring brighter light both in Australia and Indonesia if Indonesian journalists themselves put aside their self interest in promoting and institutionalising press freedom and begin to join their Australian colleagues to be skeptical on the issue. Perhaps Yunus is ''Major Andreas''. Perhaps he is not. Surely an investigation is needed to establish the truth.

-- Andreas Harsono is The Nation's Jakarta correspondent.

Tuesday, October 06, 1998

Habibie unveils grand I'nesia vision

Kavi Chongkittavorn, Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA, 6 October 1998 -- Indonesian President Bacharuddin Habibie has the grand vision of his country becoming a democratic nation which respects human rights and can synergise with the world community.

Habibie, in an exclusive interview with The Nation and iTV on Saturday at the Merdeka Palace, said he wanted to see Indonesians free to do "what they think is good for the country".

The president, who was an aerospace engineer, said his people were expressing themselves with new openness. "In the past 120 days, we have had 84 registered political parties. In the past, we only had three parties," he said. "People must be given a chance according to the UN charter."

Habibie has been credited for freeing the press in Indonesia. For starters, banned magazines have been reopened. Tempo magazine, which had been forced to shut down by the previous government, reappeared on the newsstands on Monday.

With democracy, Indonesia can generate a positive synergy with other Asean countries and allow them to tap into each other's resources, he said.

Asked if an open Indonesia would influence the future of Asean, he said each country would use what is best taking its culture into consideration.

In a bizarre analogy, he likened the calorie intake of a human with the concept of human rights. "Like human rights, a 1,500 daily calorie intake for a human is universal but the way you take it is not," he said with a broad smile.

"I am not allowed to tell you how to take your 1,500 calories. I am concerned about what I can do if you don't get enough calories. I am also concerned that if you take 3,000 calories a day you will get fat and die, " he said.

The president, who had just postponed a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, said he stood by the principle of non- interference, which has been the pillar behind Asean's code of conduct.

He said he did not see Indonesia as the only leading force in Asean because every member was a leader. "Each one of us has to play its role, " he added.

However, the president said his country, the fourth largest nation, will continue contributing to the region's peace and stability, adding that bilateral trade in Asean was the key behind close cooperation.

He said the assistance given to Indonesia during the time of its crisis by its neighbours including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, had been much appreciated.

Habibie spent nearly an hour discussing Indonesia's future, his plans to save the economy, his vision for Asean, on how the ethnic-Chinese community suffered from the race riots and his feeling towards the sacking of Malaysia's former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, whom he described as a good friend.

Habibie, always at ease with journalists, has never been hesitant in answering questions. Since there were no advance questions, the quick expressive replies from the president, who succeeded Suharto in May, were the highlight of the interview.

Since he took over the presidential seat, Habibie has spoken to more than two dozen foreign journalists from various parts of the world. His aides say this represents a new openness in Indonesia which he has been trying to promote via a freer press. His predecessor seldom spoke to journalists. During the interview with The Nation, he credited Suharto for being the father of the nation and for his dedication in improving the lot of the Indonesian people. Suharto stepped down from his presidency after the May riots and Habibie, the then vice-president, took over. Habibie still holds his position as the vice-president.

When asked if he had ever consulted Suharto after taking office in May, he said no. "I have never seen him and have had to do the work myself," he said.

He added the government's top priority was to restore the supremacy of law and order and ensure that there was no anarchy in the future. Indonesia, he pointed out, needed good laws implemented in a professional way.

The president said he wanted everybody in the Indonesian society to have the highest level of professionalism. He later explained that he was referring to the military, government officials, businessmen and journalists.

The growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots along with the pressing social issues resulting from the austerity measures have raised fears that the nation might turn into a state of anarchy. It is estimated that nearly 50 million or more remain unemployed.

With regards to the six-million Chinese community, Habibie said the government treated them like Indonesian citizens. "They have the same rights, the same responsibility like the rest," he said.

The president was compassionate when talking about Anwar, saying he was concerned about the former deputy premier's fate and that the Malaysian public be wise enough not to forget Anwar's contribution in the past.

"I am very concerned about how my friend Anwar Ibrahim has been treated. I'm concerned because people should not forget that Anwar Ibrahim has contributed a lot to his country," he said.

He said he was saddened by his arrest. "I think it is not good. You should not introduce bad things. It's bad enough if you just forget and delete [Anwar's contribution]."

Anwar has a sizeable following in Indonesia, where he befriended Muslim leaders and intellectuals. With their new-found freedom, the Indonesian press, while criticising Mahathir for his actions, has been openly sympathetic with Anwar. Last week, former Malaysian deputy prime minister Ghafar Baba, during a visit to Jakarta, lashed out at the Indonesian press for their criticism.

Wednesday, September 30, 1998

Indonesia faces dire rice problem

The Nation, September 30, 1998, Wednesday

The shortage of rice is getting very serious in Indonesia as even farmers scrounge for their staple food. Andreas Harsono writes.


Prior to the ongoing economic crisis, Warsan used to run a small business, producing and selling furniture from his wooden house in the little village of Klampok, 320 kilometres southeast of Jakarta.

''Now a piece of this six-centimetre-thick foam is 60,000 rupiah. It was only 15,000 rupiah last year,'' said Warsan, taking a piece of blue upholstery material out of his workshop.

Unable to resist the pressure, the carpenter, who uses only one name, finally had to close down his business six months ago and even sold his house to pay his bank charges.

''Nobody cares to buy furniture any more. Their top priority is buying rice,'' said Warsan's wife, Chodiah, who joined her husband in an interview on Sept 19 holding her youngest daughter.

The difficulties of the Warsans are a worrying example of many Indonesian families whose breadwinners have lost their jobs and have trouble feeding their children.

Warsan and Chodiah have six children, whose ages range from 19 years to the 13-month-old infant. Their eldest, a daughter recently gave birth to their first grandchild.

''Most of the time, I have to go into debt to buy our daily rice. We eat only rice and vegetables. I don't remember the last time we ate meat,'' said the 40-year-old Chodiah, who suffers from acute tuberculosis but has no money for intensive medication.

Warsan is a freelance carpenter now. He mends broken furniture or takes part-time work in a big furniture shop, earning between 6,000 and 7,000 rupiah a day, just enough to buy three kilogrammes of rice.

''Sometimes he brings no money home, but sometimes we can still buy 500 rupiah worth of bones to make a tiny bowl of soup for the baby,'' said Chodiah, adding that her family's diet has changed from vegetables to tempe soybean cake.

The food problem began with the depreciation of the Indonesian rupiah, which weakened from 2,300 to the US dollar in July last year to around 10,000 this month. Consequently Indonesia has had to to increase the domestic price of rice, which has quadrupled from 800 rupiah per kilogramme last year to between 2,500 and 3,000 this month.

Government agencies predict that 15 million of Indonesia's 200 million people are having difficulty buying rice and widespread looting of rice warehouses and paddy fields have taken place in some parts of the country.

Minister of Food Distribution A M Saefuddin said the calculation of rice stocks was based on the assumption that with a monthly rice consumption of 11 kg per person, the total need for 200 million people would be about 2.2 million tonnes per month.

The government imported some from Thailand, Pakistan and the United States, but Saefuddin said many people were hoarding their rice stocks because of price uncertainty.

''Shortages of food are especially acute off the island of Java. There are people who can't get access to rice any more,'' said Jeffrey Winters, professor of political economy at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Winters added that Indonesia, once proclaimed self-sufficient in rice production, was now the world's largest importer of rice. ''That's very expensive for Indonesia at a time when the rupiah is very, very weak,'' he said.

In a bid to help poor families, the worst victims of this crisis, the Indonesian government has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to finance a scheme by which poor families can buy heavily subsidised rice. Each poor family is given a coupon for 10 kg of rice a month at 1,000 rupiah a kilogramme.

''But there are families who cannot afford 10,000 rupiah a month to buy rice. They're the poorest of the poor,'' said social worker Edy Purwanto of the Klampok-based Emanuel Hospital.

Quoting statistical measures from the Indonesian Family Planning Agency, Purwanto said a person is considered poor who among other things cannot afford to consume 300 grammes of rice a day.

This makes the Warsans -- two parents, one son-in-law, six children and one grandchild -- poor, as they cannot afford three kilogrammes of rice every day.

By this standard, Purwanto said, between 17 and 25 per cent of families in Klampok were categorised as poor before the crisis. Now around 70 per cent are, including the newly poor Warsans.

The impacts on many villagers is devastating. Many parents have taken their children out of school. Around 6,000 children have reportedly dropped out this semester, almost half the school-age children in the district. Crime has increased. Several villagers admit that they spend the night in their paddy fields in case of theft. Stories abound in the district of paddy being stolen from fields and rice from bowls.

''We're still fortunate that our children do not complain much. Children eat anything if they're hungry,'' said Chodiah, mentioning that only one of her six children still goes to school. The others have dropped out.

Sunday, September 27, 1998

Abri to face changes in Indonesia

With the power changing hands and the people regaining a stronger voice, there's a new role for Arbri, writes Andreas Harsono.


IT began in the morning when an angry Chinese shop owner scolded one of her employees over a careless work. But the tension prompted that helpless worker to immediately run away from the ''Rejo Agung'' shop and went to a bus terminal nearby.

Sukiman told his version to the people there. And it did not take long before hundreds of drivers, would-be passengers, street vendors and students to circle that small shop, shouted anti-Chinese remarks, expectedly ran amok and inserted a burning tire into the retail store.

Three hours after the scolding, anti-Chinese sentiment mixed with economic hardship in this small-town of nearly 100,000 have finally provoked the mob to attack other Chinese-owned businesses.

Looters took out most goods, from rice to cooking oil, from clothes to razor blades. They used molotov cocktail to burn almost all Chinese-owned shops in front of the Kebumen market. It only began to calm in the evening but the Sept 7 riots ultimately ended up with more than 40 Chinese-owned buildings burned down or almost half of the town's Chinese- owned businesses.

Several Chinese shop owners said there was no sign of police or military during the riots. ''Only my Javanese neighbours who helped to extinguish the fire on the roof,'' said Chinese trader Feriani Listianto whose ''Walet'' shop suffered minor destructions.

''The police station is actually located in front of the Rejo Agung shop,'' said student Jhony Purwono who opens a small street vendor, adding that the police practically did nothing to prevent the rioters to burn nearly the whole town.

The police incompetence in this town, around 400 kilometres southeast of Jakarta, is a troubling example on how troublesome the position of the Indonesian military is.

Military analysts said the reputation of the Indonesian armed forces, whose abbreviation is locally known as Abri, had never been worse than today. Notorious human rights record, grave involvement in lucrative businesses and dangerous engagement in dirty political operations during the Suharto rule have seriously damaged its name.

''The Indonesian people mostly regard military personnel as criminals or armed hoodlums, but they do not dare express such feelings openly,'' said Hermawan Sulistiyo, a political researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

In Kebumen, once again both the military and the police, which are organised under the Abri structure, has been proved to lack the expertise and the ability to maintain order. Jokes circulated among Jakarta's elite said Abri has the expertise in many fields. From business to politics -- but not on the military operation itself.

A government-sponsored commission to investigate the May riots in Jakarta has recently revealed a similar problem. Frictions took place between the army and the police during the May 14-16 riots to an extent that had prompted the Jakarta police to withdraw their troops from the riot-hit areas to their respective barracks.

Radio communication also broke down. Commanders took the initiatives into their own hands. Soldiers did nothing when watching looters burning down Chinese-owned shops, banks and houses.

Worse than that, instead of guarding strategic places, army commanders were busily involved themselves in guarding business sites or rich housing areas whose owners could offer bigger payment. Army commanders set up their respective prices. Stationing a tank in front of a complex costs 10 million rupiah or around $ 1,000 per day. A company of almost 100 soldiers was priced at between 7.5 and 15 million per day.

Jakarta and Kebumen are only two examples. The military incompetence has increased concern here amidst riots which break out in various scales on almost daily basis. From oil-rich Lhokseumawe in northern Sumatra to Baucau in East Timor, off the Australian waters, riots and looting have helped destabilised this world's forth most populous country.

Opposition leader Amien Rais of the National Mandate Party warned in August that further riots and looting might bring Indonesia on the brink of disintegration, saying that the military should ''reform itself'' and goes back to the barrack if it wants to stop the disintegration.

Theoretically in three or four hours, the Kebumen security forces could ask a larger enforcement from military barracks from neighboring towns between 30 minutes and two-hour driving away. But they did not do it. ''We're totally outnumbered,'' said a police spokesman.

The unspoken reason is that most soldiers here are actually demoralised and not well trained to use riot-control methods. They could easily blockaded the Rejo Agung area in a bid to prevent the riots. But they did not do it.

Soldiers here usually just used repressive measures such as firing live ammunition, torturing key witnesses or kidnapping human rights activists during the Suharto rule. Now with fall of Suharto, soldiers are automatically discouraged from using those old habits.

Recent revelations on the torture, killing, kidnap and rapes involving Indonesian soldiers in the politically-troubled Aceh in northern Sumatra and the internationally-disputed East Timor have also seriously tarnished the reputation of the Indonesian army.

Muslim protesters also frequently urged the newly-appointed government of President B J Habibie to reopen investigation into the Tanjung Priok massacre in 1984 during which more than 150 Muslims were allegedly killed.

The fresh investigation is very likely to corner several retired military figures which include former vice president Try Sutrisno and former Abri commander General Benny Moerdani.

Meanwhile, Abri commander-in-chief General Wiranto has repeatedly pledged to use firm measures against looters and rioters but it largely went out unheeded. The Forum Keadilan bi-weekly once reported that looters in one particular shrimp pond only burst into laughter when some soldiers opened fire into the air. They knew very well that those soldiers were nervous and would never take firm measures.

Foreign diplomats and analysts here also said that many young frustrated officers, who prefer to concentrate their energy to their professions rather than the day-to-day politics, are also annoyed at Wiranto who is widely seen not firm enough to distance himself from the Suharto regime.

Wiranto told a parliamentarian hearing in mid-September that Abri is to keep its ''dual function'' role in which the military is given a wide role in the country's socio-politic life besides its more traditional role in defence.

''Therefore, rumours on a planned disbanding of the Abri socio- political institution is not true. Even though there are changes, it does not mean that the socio-political institution will be disbanded,'' Wiranto said, referring to the military's influential socio-political department.

Regional analyst Dewi Fortuna Anwar, who is also an aide to Habibie however, saw the problem from a rather different angle, saying that it is true Indonesia has a weak president, a tarnished military and troubled economy.

But such a sorry state of affairs actually provides a window of opportunity to prevent the rise of yet another strongman ruler like Suharto who had caused people suffering.

''While in earlier times the state was always stronger than society, now the reverse is true,'' Anwar said. ''The troubles faced by the military and its overall lack of credibility because of human rights abuses compound the impression of a relatively weak state on the one hand and an increasingly powerful civil society on the other.''

''There is now .. an opportunity to prevent the rise of another strongman and personal rule once and for all, as well as to reduce the military's involvement in politics. The way is now open,'' she said.

Indeed, the question remained the same. How much money is the cost of this process of democratisation. How many more victims will fall? And how many more towns and cities are to be burned?

Andreas Harsono is The Nation's Jakarta correspondent.

Copyright(C) 1998 The Nation (Bangkok)

Saturday, September 19, 1998

Still problems for Jakarta scribes

THE NATION

Despite the fall of Suharto, Indonesian journalists still have to look around before going ahead with their stories, writes Andreas Harsono.


RELEASED from the shackles of former President Suharto's dictatorship, Indonesian journalists still have to carefully count on many powerful organisations and influential figures before going to press with their stories on gruesome human rights abuses.

''Suharto is gone but Abri is still here to stay,'' said Ati Nurbaiti (on Monday), a reporter of the English-language Jakarta Post daily, referring to the local acronym of the Indonesian Armed Forces which has won notoriety because of its human rights record.

According to Nurbaiti, Indonesian newspapers usually consider a number of factors before publishing sensitive human rights reports or corruption scandals. The military is one factor. The government of newly-appointed President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie is another one.

Although the Habibie government is relatively weaker than the Suharto regime, but it is still closely related. Critics say Habibie only continues the Suharto regime despite Habibie's repeated attempt to distance himself from the Indonesian strongman.

Last but not least, journalists have also to consider the Muslims in Indonesia which has the largest Muslim population in a single country in the world. Many of them are quite intolerant toward the media.

A right-wing Muslim organisation just recently filed a lawsuit against the ''Jakarta-Jakarta'' monthly men's magazine over its report on a massive anti-Chinese riots in Jakarta in May.

The Muslim group alleges that the magazine had tarnished the good name of Islam after quoting an Internet report on a rape victim. The victim reportedly quoted her rapist as saying, ''You must be raped because you're Chinese and non-Muslim,'' implicating that the rapist is a Muslim and a pribumi which literally translates as ''indigenous''.

The Muslim group argues correctly that the Internet report is baseless on the grounds that the victim is never known and that her account is only distributed on the Internet.

''Reporting human rights violence is a tricky issue,'' said Nurbaiti.

''Women issue is indeed considered to be an acceptable issue. But not gang rape in a military-operation area such as in Aceh.''

Aceh was considered to a no-journalist zone during the Suharto era. But Suharto's fall in May has drastically encouraged many Aceh figures, human rights workers as well as the media to expose massive killing that took place in the area since it was declared a military-operation area in 1989.

Just like in the internationally-disputed East Timor, Aceh in northern Sumatra as well as Irian Jaya in the Pacific, have witnessed many torture, mass rapes and even massacres conducted by the Indonesian army.

Budiman Tanuredjo, a legal correspondent of the Jakarta-based Kompas daily, Indonesia's biggest serious newspaper, also noted (on Monday) difficulties when reporting human rights abuses, saying that some of his colleagues had recently received threats through their beepers, handphones or even being tailed by intelligent people.

''When the Dili massacre took place in November 1991, we had to do our best to write our reports. Now it is easier to report the Aceh case,'' said Budiman, adding that he had received various kind of warning after publishing an interview with then outspoken East Timor Governor Mario Carrascalao over the mass killing in the East Timor capital.

''There's still Abri generals who are hostile against the media. But they're less powerful,'' said the 34-year-old correspondent who had covered legal and human rights issue since 1991.

Indeed, just like both Nurbaiti and Budiman agreed, the Habibie era has slightly created a relatively press freedom here. The Suharto period was marred by the closure of more than 30 news organisations which include Indonesia's most established weekly magazine Tempo in 1994.

According to Habibie's Information Minister Muhammad Yunus, he had already approved the publications of more than 120 news magazines, tabloids and dailies since the fall of Suharto.

''I practically signed one new licence everyday,'' Yunus says in August, adding that he is to pass a new media law to the parliament which is to free publishers from having a publishing licence.

In Ujungpandang, a major port city in southern Sulawesi in the eastern part of Indonesia, eight new weeklies suddenly appear in the market. Two new dailies are soon going to compete against the three existing dailies. These media have to compete one to each other to publish more exclusive reports.

The Jakarta-based bi-weekly 'Tajuk' even claims to be an entertainment, business and investigative magazine, focusing its reports on poll-based and in-depth reporting.

Budiman, however, noted that his newspaper is always trying to publish a story ''proportionately'' no matter how conservative such a stance to be compared with other ''more daring and outspoken media''.

Goenawan Mohamad, the chief editor of the Tempo news weekly, stresses the need to ''institutionalise'' the relatively press freedom enjoyed by the media, saying that media advocates, journalists and editors should work hard to change the Suharto-inherited draconian media laws.

Goenawan believes that no such a free lunch. It is better to have freedom, although a little bit chaotic, rather than being censored and ''guided'' by the government just like what had happened over the last 30 years in Suharto's Indonesia.

Despite many difficulties, foreign diplomats and media observers here are quite usual to build the expertise to read between the lines. Leading newspapers such as Kompas, The Jakarta Post and Tempo have a long reputation of always trying to expand the limit of media openness.

According to Tanuredjo, his method when interviewing his sources is always being a ''moderate reporter, not bending to the left, nor to the right''. When facing activists, Tanuredjo tends to place himself as if he is a bureaucrat, raising questions toward the activists like what the bureaucrats used to do. On the contrary, if he is to question bureaucrats, he tend to think like the activists, raising arguments or questions like the activists.

''In short I cannot just easily swallow their data or arguments,'' says Budiman.

Perhaps, tired of being harassed and having the euphoria of the post-Suharto period, might also encourage reporters to be more aggressive. A group of angry reporters and photographers beat up an intelligence officer in early September for blocking and pulling the collars of some of the journalists when they were trying to doorstep timber tycoon Mohamad Hasan.

The army sergeant even took out his FN .45 pistol to discourage the journalists from covering Hasan's six-hour questioning at the Attorney General's office in Jakarta in connection with widespread allegations of corruption.

When a group of photographers tried to take the picture of Hasan, who is also a close associate to Suharto, Sgt Ramli got in their way and pulled at the collars of the pushy reporters after Hasan proved to be reluctant to answer their questions.

''He was disturbing our job. Imagine, he grabbed my collar and tried to pull me away. That was why I kicked him away,'' says Kompas journalist Arbain Rambey, adding that the journalists then shouted, ''thief, thief'' before chasing and beating the officer.

-- Andreas Harsono is The Nation's Jakarta correspondent.

Wednesday, August 26, 1998

Wither the general's star

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

The sacking of Prabowo Subianto, former president Suharto's son-in- law, marks the end of his dramatic climb in the Indonesian military, reports Andreas Harsono.

On May 21, several hours after Indonesian strongman Suharto announced in a nationally-broadcast speech that he was to step down from his 33-year authoritarian rule, Lt Gen Prabowo Subianto, was relieved of his command of the strategic forces in Jakarta.

Prabowo, who is also Suharto's son-in-law, was immediately dispatched to head a military college in Bandung, a hill town about a three-hour drive from Jakarta.

Rumours in Jakarta were rife that Prabowo was furious over the demotion and insisted on meeting the newly-installed President B J Habibie and military commander General Wiranto.

But, despite bringing his troops, he was unable to enter the Presidential Palace to meet Habibie. His removal had indeed shocked the whole establishment here.

According to the military spokesmen, it was a ''regular tour of duty''. Indeed nobody believed it. It is widely known here that Prabowo and Wiranto are old rivals.

Four-star Wiranto represented a faction that wanted to see a cleaner, more professional military, while three-star Prabowo is a ''traditional'' Indonesian officer who never hides his fondness for politics.

Prabowo is closely associated with a collection of Islamic organisations dedicated to a Muslim-first ideology. He helped to create a think-tank for young Islamic activists and he has given support to groups whose rhetoric revolves around an aggrieved sense of Muslim chauvinism and a deep racial hatred of Chinese-Indonesians.

Several days after the dismissal, Jakarta was still buzzing with rumours that Prabowo, who used to head the Kopassus elite command, was involved in provoking massive riots in mid-May that killed more than 1,000 people.

Prabowo was also alleged to be involved in the burning of many Chinese-owned buildings and the gang rapes of Chinese-Indonesian women.

A number of journalists who have interviewed Prabowo were stunned by his anti-Chinese remarks. A British journalist once had a three-hour interview with Prabowo during which the general talked about an ''overseas Chinese conspiracy'' which aimed to bring down Indonesia's economy.

Prabowo said he would like ''to evict the un-nationalistic Chinese'' from Indonesia. ''I believe in genetics. Intelligence depends on race,'' Prabowo once said.

Which race would Prabowo put on top? ''Yellow people,'' he answered. ''They're just like Jews in Europe or the Parsis in India. We hate the Chinese because we know they outperform us,'' the general said.

''The Muslims have an inferiority complex and feel like they don't even own their own country. The fact that three per cent of the population owns 70 per cent of the economy is the main problem of Indonesia,'' he said in a clear reference to the Chinese minority who control most retail business in the country.

Others charged that Prabowo had allegedly instructed his Kopassus soldiers to kidnap human rights workers and activists in an apparent bid to weaken the opposition and shored up the ailing Suharto dictatorship.

Human rights groups have documented 23 cases of activists kidnapped this year, nine of whom have returned with gruesome accounts of being tortured for weeks. Fourteen others are still missing.

Indeed, many Indonesians wondered: how could a well-trained officer like Prabowo commit such crimes?

''It really hurts me to know that the Kopassus had been used to kidnap and torture our own people,'' said Lt Gen Agum Gumelar, a Wiranto colleague who was the former head of the elite command.

Prabowo is the scion of a blue-blood family. The Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review once called the family the ''Kennedys of Indonesia''.

His father is Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, the godfather of Indonesia's technocrats, and the only person to be minister under both Sukarno and Suharto.

Prabowo's brother is tycoon Hashim Djojohadikusumo who heads the widely-diversified Tirtamas group. Prabowo's brother-in-law is Sudradjat Djiwandono, the former central bank governor.

Prabowo himself is married to Suharto's middle daughter Siti Hediati. Even his relatives were surprised by the charges of wrongdoing against him. His parents were reportedly ''shocked'' when told that Prabowo was directly involved in the kidnapping of activists who were electrocuted, beaten and held in underground cells.

Prabowo, however, remained calm amid the charges and even gave a five-hour interview to American journalist Margaret Scott before he was questioned by a military council in early August.''They put me down in the gutter,'' Prabowo reportedly said.

The public pressure and the downfall of Suharto have prompted the military to set up a military council to question Prabowo and two other Kopassus officers.

On Monday, Prabowo was fired from all posts in the military while his two sidekicks were stripped of their authority but allowed to remain in the army.

''They must be held responsible for their attitude and action which obviously violated the officer's code of honour and damaged the image of the armed forces,'' Wiranto said.

Western military sources said Wiranto dragged Prabowo before the council to boost the military's credibility, preserve his own position and solidify his support.

''It is not clear whether Prabowo is the anti-Christ who orchestrated everything. There may be a tendency to use the council by senior figures to offload their own sins on him,'' a foreign military attache said.

Now that the three-star general's career is coming to an end, a former colleague said Prabowo was not really prepared to have such a burdensome responsibility.

Prabowo rose fast through the ranks when Suharto was in power. He was the first among his classmates to reach such high positions, no doubt with help from his father-in-law.

Among the army elite circle, Prabowo is considered as a ''sick person''. Often brash, he was said to have a ''split personality''. But what he wanted, he always got, most probably assisted by Suharto. Ironically, with Suharto gone, Prabowo had a real opportunity to show who he really was. But it was too late.

Wednesday, July 29, 1998

Indonesian Immigrants to East Timor Face Uphill Battle


Andreas Harsono American Reporter Correspondent Jakarta, Indonesia

DILI, East Timor -- Benny Pinontoan had finished his siesta, but he decided to just remain lying on his couch, watching television programs inside his small apartment.

"I'm really worried. Two days ago I went to Kupang with my wife and six children to send them by ship back to Ambon," says Pinontoan, adding that his children were regularly harassed for money at schools by other kids.

Worse than that, one evening about 10 East Timorese youths even came to his house and asked Pinontoan if he was for a U.N.-managed referendum on independence or for autonomy within Indonesia for East Timor. "I tried to explain to them that I am just a businessman. I don't care what flag they fly," says the 52-year-old lumber trader.

But his plea didn't help him much. The East Timorese youths left his house, but also left the immigrant trader in doubt whether doing business in this internationally-disputed area was as safe as it used to be.

"Men could easily escape troubles, but what about women and children?" he asked.

The Pinontoan case is yet another troubling example of the way in which many Indonesian immigrants, locally known as "pendatang," who have lived in East Timor since the 1980s, now face profound uncertainties as ethnic and religious hostilities make themselves felt, and of the difficulties in unitng the diverse minorities of the world's fourth largest nation.

Many pendatangs tell similar stories about East Timorese youths who came to the immigrant-owned properties and asked for money, or asked, "When do you go home?" Others took whatever they wanted without paying for it.

The terror in this former Portuguese colony, born of decades of mutual mistrust, comes from new threats of violence that since early July have caused more than 30,000 Indonesian immigrants to flee the territory, which was seized by Indonesia in 1975.

"They're irresponsible people. They just look for money and run away if minor difficulties arise," says Dili restaurant owner Olandina Alves, who is also a member of the local parliament, when asked about the fleeing immigrants -- who are mostly members of Indonesia's main ethnic grups, the Javanese and Bugis.

Like Pinontoan, who comes from the island of Ambon in the eastern part of Indonesia, most pendatangs prefer to return to their native islands. Many flee to the southern part of Sulawesi, whose main inhabitants are the Bugis people, as well as to the main island of Java, where the nation's capital, Jakarta, is located.

The mass exodus from East Timor began after newly-installed Indonesian President B.J. Habibie offered a new autonomous status for East Timor on June 11. Habibie also offered to withdraw some troops from the territory and to release East Timor rebel leader Xanana Gusmao, who was captured in 1992 and is serving a 20-year sentence for separatist activities, as part of a deal that would include international recognition of East Timor as part of Indonesia.

But Habibie's offer was immediately rejected by East Timor separatist leaders including the independence movement's self-exiled spokesman Jose Ramos-Horta, who together with East Timor Bishop Felipe Ximenes Belo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. Ramos-Horta proposed a UN-sponsored referendum to determine the future of East Timor.

His opponents, pro-Indonesian leaders like East Timor governor Abilio Osorio Soares, who advocated the territory's merger with Indonesia in 1975, enthusiastically welcomed the proposal, saying that it is the most realistic choice. Soares warned that total independence is very likely to trigger a civil war among the East Timorese.

The pros and cons immediately prompted supporters of both side to stage mass rallies. One pro-independence demonstrator was killed and four others were seriously injured when Indonesian soldiers opened fire on a street protest in mid-July.

Political uncertainty, economic crisis and massive street rallies have indeed discouraged pendatangs who run their own businesses. "The economy is not [just] hurt, but [has] totally collapsed," says Pinontoan.

Some observers say that Dili, with a population of 100,000, is among the worst-hit areas in East Timor, because most pendatangs live in the capital. Many shops were abandoned by their immigrant owners.

"These people keep on saying that East Timor is their 27th province. Now they're all leaving this area. I think they need not come back again. We have learned how to do business ourselves," says journalist Metta Guterres of the Dili-based Suara Timor Timur daily.

Charges that the pendatangs are not "nationalists" are frequently aired, surprisingly, not only by people like Alves or Guterres, but also Bishop Belo. "I don't agree with this act of threats. But if they consider East Timor as their 27th province, why do they leave East Timor?" the Nobelist asks.

"They come here just to do their business and to make money. Now they fly away to Singapore. They're not nationalists," says Belo, adding that he would still, however, welcome the immigrants' return to East Timor.

Alves, who was questioned and jailed three times by Indonesian troops, says that pendatangs find it difficult to integrate into the East Timor community. The cultures and lifestyle of the two ethnic are detrimentally different, he says.

The East Timorese, she points out, tend to be more open and straightforward.

"They will say A if it is an A, black if it is black or white if white. But our Indonesian brothers-and-sisters, they could say black although it is white," says Alves.

Indonesians tend to be more feudalistic, Alves says. They may say things that they do not necessarily agree with to appease others.

Whatever the problem, and like it or not, now many East Timor and Indonesian leaders have apparently begun to think about what they should do about the Indonesian immigrants, who make up between 15 and 20 percent of East Timor's 800,000 population, if one day the area achieves either autonomy or even independence.

The issue is widely discussed, since many Indonesians themselves have aired anti-Chinese sentiment. Critics say the President Habibie government had not done enough to secure the safety of Chinese-descent Indonesians, many of whom fared badly during massive anti-Chinese riots in May. Widely circulated allegations say that some Indonesian generals were involved in provoking the riots in a bid to kick the Chinese out of Indonesia.

"For our part, at least, we don't force people to go out. We don't intimidate people. That's clear," says East Timor student leader Antero Benedito da Silva, noting that many "mixed" marriages between East Timorese and Indonesian have occurred in the past two decades.

"Similar cases happened around the world. I would like to see the other cases. There are other experiences that we can learn from," says da Silva, adding that the issue of language will also be important in any movement to preserve East Timorese culture.

Andreas Harsono is one of Indonesia's most distinguished journalists.

Wednesday, July 01, 1998

Post-Suharto Indonesia sees rise in ethnic and religious parties

The Nation Editorial & Opinion

For decades Indonesia has had three political parties; now there are more than 30, but some are worried about parties which fan ethnic and religious feelings, writes Andreas Harsono.

Freed from the shackles of dictatorship, Indonesians are exercising their new political freedom with great enthusiasm, having set up more than 30 political parties, including some advocating women's rights, the defence of ethnic Chinese and the protection of the environment.

''The plug which had been clogging the bottle of democracy for years is now unplugged,'' said J B Kristiadi of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, referring to the iron-fist rule of former president Suharto, who had been in power since 1965 until he was forced to resign on May 21.

For more than three decades Suharto kept a tight rein on political activities with only three recognised political parties, among them his ruling Golkar party, which had emerged victorious without fail in the nation's carefully orchestrated general elections. But President B J Habibie has opened the floodgates, with Indonesia witnessing a profusion of political organisations as citizens prepare for free elections scheduled for next year.

Habibie gave the go-ahead for Indonesians to set up new political parties while his Cabinet set out to draft new laws on elections and parties. The only condition that Habibie has imposed is that all parties must adhere to the state ideology Pancasila and reject communism, whose followers were blamed for an abortive coup in 1965.

One of the most controversial of these new organisations is the Partai Reformasi Tionghwa Indonesia, or the Chinese Indonesian Reform Party, whose aim is ''to defend our rights and create true harmony among Indonesian citizens''. Ethnic Chinese make up less than five per cent of the 202 million population but control most of the nation's retail businesses. They are a regular target of social unrest and were again victims of the riots in mid-May which helped to bring down Suharto.

But not all Indonesians are receptive to the idea of a race-based political party, even the Chinese themselves.

''It will only strengthen the isolationist image of Chinese-Indonesians,'' said Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid of think-tank Paramadina.

The Chinese party also provoked one Indonesian lawyer to vow to set up an ''anti-Chinese party''. The attorney said that he would mobilise the poor and the underclass to confront Chinese politicians.

Nurcholish, along with many religious leaders, also voiced concern over possible adverse repercussions if religiously affiliated political parties were established, especially by the majority Muslims.

The biggest casualty of the new political era is undoubtedly Suharto's Golkar. One of its largest affiliates has already broken away to form a separate party, claiming that Golkar does not represent its members' aspirations. The party's business wing is threatening to follow suit.

''I'm happy that Amien Rais has disclaimed any intention of establishing an Islamic political party,'' Nurcholish said, hoping that Abdurrahman Wahid, the chairman of the 30-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama Muslim organisation, would do likewise.

Amien, the chairman of Indonesia's second largest Muslim organisation, the 25-million strong Muhammadiyah, played a crucial role in forcing Suharto to step down. He has built an alliance with former environment minister Emil Salim, a US-trained economist who is popular in secular circles.

Both Amien and Wahid are widely seen to be the two most influential Muslim figures. Wahid himself had instructed his followers to wait for a fatwa, an official statement from clerics and lay leadership, on the matter, adding that the executive board would soon be convened to issue the fatwa.

The general fear is that an Islamic party will split Indonesian Muslims, who are traditionally divided by different political thinking. It is also feared that some of the more radical Muslims, who frequently use anti-Chinese or anti-Christian rhetoric, plan to exploit racial issues to further their own interests.

Many observers and journalists say the establishment of a single Islamic party is, in the first place, impossible. The Muslims themselves are deeply factionalised. In the long run, a religion-based political party might break up or even lead to the disintegration of the nation.

Others, however, passionately beg to differ. Legal expert Yusril Ihsa Mahendra, senior political figure Hartono Mardjono and ulema (doctors of Islamic law) Ahmad Sumargono, Abdul Qadir Djaelani and Kholil Ridwan are among many Muslim figures who advocate the establishment of an Islamic political party. One of their major arguments is that many countries, for example Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union in Germany, employ religion as their platform. They also point out that Indonesia's only democratic election in 1955 also saw the participation of certain Islamic parties.

''Islam yes! Islamic party yes!'' said Sumargono in a speech delivered in late May. ''We welcome those who want to establish Catholic parties, Christian parties, secular parties or whatever, but don't prevent Muslims from forming an Islamic party for fear that it would endanger the nation,'' Sumarsono said, adding that the fear was a sign of an ''Islamophobia''.

Although the electoral laws are still being drafted, Habibie has himself called on the people not to establish political parties whose platforms are based on SARA, an Indonesian acronym for polarising societal forces centred around differences in tribal affiliations, religion, race and societal groups.

It is still unclear how the SARA issue is to be handled in Indonesia's next election, but noted Muslim figures, including Dr Deliar Noer, have already set up Islamic parties. While declaring the establisment of Partai Ummat Indonesia last week, Noer argued there were no laws preventing Muslims from establishing a political party.

Saturday, June 13, 1998

Habibie's fate sealed by imploding economy


The Nation (Bangkok)
 Editorial & Opinion

With the economy falling into an abyss and the government on its knees, only new elections can restore credibility, writes Andreas Harsono.

WHEN dozens of people broke into a spacious house in Gunung Sahari Street at the height of the May riots in Jakarta, they knew well that the highly-fenced, dimly-lit building belonged to Indonesia's number one tycoon, Liem Sioe Liong alias Sudono Salim. ''The dog of Suharto,'' brayed one of the uninvited visitors.

The mob entered the house, ransacked the building and took a larger-than-life portrait of Salim out to the street, where they mocked the China-born Indonesian, an old friend of then-President Suharto. Elsewhere throughout Jakarta, Salim's Bank Central Asia, the biggest bank in Indonesia, saw 122 of its 400 branches pillaged. More than 110 automatic teller machines were reportedly damaged by the vandals and stripped of cash.

The message was clear. Massive price hikes, rising unemployment, endemic corruption, rampant cronyism, runaway 
 inflation and repressive government have cumulatively moved the poor to rebel, especially after the slayings of four 
 Indonesian students on May 12.

On May 14-16, thousands of Jakarta's workers, unemployed youths and even children vandalised and set on fire some 
 119 shopping centres, 13 traditional markets, and thousands of houses and cars. A disciplined, student-led movement 
 however later occupied the Indonesian parliament building which eventually forced Suharto to step down on May 21.

A glorious victory?

Not quite, say many observers. The dictator is gone but his corrupt regime remains. Worse still, he left behind a country on the brink of bankruptcy.

Mari Pangestu of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies estimated that unemployment will rise to more than 15 
 million this year, or nearly 20 per cent of the workforce. With food prices rising sharply, this means that as many as 58 million people will soon be in poverty, far above the 22.5 million in January.

''We aren't going to see any investment coming in for a while,'' Pangestu said. ''The more you look at the numbers, the gloomier it gets.''

According to Indonesia watcher A R T Kemasang of the University of Bradford, the ongoing economic crisis might even led to 
 a radicalisation of the masses in the world's fourth most populous country. Without a democratic and popular government, 
 proper economic management, and a fresh injection of funds, Indonesia will face a long season of political instability and economic uncertainty. As the popular credo goes, ''Hungry people are angry people.''

A few hours after Suharto's resignation, hundreds of farmers established bamboo fences and reclaimed hectares of land on 
 the outskirts of Jakarta which belonged to the Suhartos. The villagers said Suharto and his children had unfairly appropriated 
 their land years ago.

Unfortunately Vice President B J Habibie, who took over the top job, is widely known as a Suharto protege. Suharto's hand-picked parliament approved Habibie as vice-president in March despite the disapproval of the military, ruling Golkar 
 party executives, key Muslim organisations and minority groups --especially Christians from the eastern part of Indonesia -- all of whom mostly see him as a sectarian figure, a big spender and an unqualified leader.

Kemasang predicted that four political players must be involved in the process of change -- the Indonesian army, the backward-looking Muslim groups, the intelligentsia, including students, and the peasants.

''The moderate Muslims are more sensible. They are influential because of their size and are probably willing to cooperate for the good of the country,'' said Kemasang.

But Habibie has not, as perhaps the Suhartos had expected, remained silent. In an apparent bid to win public support, 
 Habibie immediately released several political prisoners, met with the riot-hit Chinese traders, allowed the establishment 
 of political parties and promised to hold a general election next year. Opposition leaders, however, who had earlier 
 demanded an election this year, charged that Habibie is only playing for time while trying to consolidate his new regime. 
 Meanwhile, Habibie's economic team demonstrated little support for the eccentric president.

''It's going to be chaotic. Only strongmen, semi-criminals and irrational figures could establish some sort of stability. These warlords will appear everywhere,'' said Rahman Tolleng, a co-founder of the Forum for Democracy, a loosely-organised forum for Jakarta intellectuals and dissidents.

Rahman, a former editor-in-chief of the Suara Karya daily, said without stable political institutions, it is very likely that the May 14 looting will be repeated. People are hungry, the economic situation is deteriorating and the government is very weak.

''I have little confidence in Habibie. That's why he has to step down,'' said Rahman. But the key problem is that anyone holding the top job in Indonesia, whether Habibie, or opposition figures like Muslim leader Amien Rais or nationalist figure Megawati Sukarnoputri, will find it hard to do more for the suffering masses under the present International Monetary Fund austerity measures. They have no choice but to cooperate with the IMF, said to have given Indonesia the ''wrong medicine''.

Rahman said a coalition, involving Amien and Megawati, is the only way out of the political impasse. A new election should be organised to restore public confidence in the government, he said.

Perhaps, said an American diplomat, the worst scenario in Indonesia is not the worsening of the economic crisis, but the political consequences of economic hardship. ''The world cannot afford to have 200 million radical Muslims,'' the diplomat lamented.

Andreas Harsono is The Nation's Jakarta correspondent

Thursday, June 04, 1998

Jakarta riots provoked, says panel


BY ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA
-- In a report detailing the possible involvement of security forces in last month's riots in Jakarta, the Indonesian Commission of Human Rights has called on the newly-installed President B.J. Habibie's administration to investigate why troops did not prevent or fight the riots.

Commissioner Asmara Nababan said on Tuesday the passive gesture of the military during the riots had created an image that they had tolerated the rioters, and demanded that the government look into ''an organisation'' which had started and triggered the rioting, burning and looting between May 14 and May 16.

Unlike previous government statements which said only around 500 people were found dead in the riots, the commission also concluded in a statement, signed by the board members of the commission, that 1,188 people had died.

When asked whether it could confirm rumours that there was a plot to engineer the riots, commissioner Marzuki Darusman said the public should not bank too much on it.

''The Commission does not want to make statements of a speculative nature. It is, therefore, important that the government and the Armed Forces should explain openly the three big incidents that had happened prior to the riots,'' he said.

Rumours circulating here said that in a bid to intimidate the opposition, some elements of the military had kidnapped dozens of human rights activists as well as shot dead four students at the Trisakti University in Jakarta on May 12 which sparked public anger and led to the riots.

Some army generals close to Lt-Gen Prabowo Subianto, the then commander of the army strategic and reserve command, who is married to the middle daughter of former president Suharto, Siti Hediyati, were allegedly involved in the kidnappings and killings.

The rumours gained momentum especially after Prabowo was abruptly replaced not more than 36 hours after his father-in-law, who had been in power since 1965, decided to resign on May 21. Some other generals were also demoted.

Many also believe that the riots, whose main victims were ethnic Chinese Indonesians, were provoked to deflect public anger from the Suhartos to the Chinese, a minority community which controls much of the retail business.

A.R.T Kemasang of the University of Bradford in England, a British specialist on anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia, whose thesis on the 1740 massacre of the Chinese during the Dutch colonial period had sparked some academic debate in the 1980s, told The Nation in a telephone interview earlier this week that the pattern of last month's riots was classic.

''The Chinese are targeted by those whom I call 'political bullies' who have no programme bar that of immediate short-term gains,'' Kemasang said, adding that the attack on the Chinese was instigated by agents provocateur working for Prabowo and ''backward-looking Muslims wanting to bring the whole situation to anarchy in which they believe they could benefit by exacting concessions from the military''.

Kemasang said that attacks against Chinese-descent Indonesians, who have lived in Indonesia for generations and do not speak Mandarin, are always orchestrated by those with vested interests, hidden agendas or ulterior motives.

''They [the riots] are not spontaneous. So it has nothing to do with what the Chinese have done or not done. It has everything to do with history, the fact that the Dutch had made them into a problem minority for buffer-cum-scapegoat in the colonial divide-and-rule,'' Kemasang said.

Page A1 - Headlines

Tuesday, May 26, 1998

Habibie's amnesty offer turned down

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA -- Two of Indonesia's most internationally recognised political prisoners rebuffed an offer of amnesty from President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie's government, which Monday also announced plans for massive political reform and early elections.

Imprisoned legislator Sri Bintang Pamungkas and union leader Muchtar Pakpahan said, from inside the Cipinang prison in east Jakarta Monday, that they would take the amnesty offer only if other political prisoners were released as well.

The two made their statements just minutes after the Justice Minister Muladi had announced on television that the government was to release all political prisoners with ''some legal considerations and selection''.

However, their planned release drew a protest, held by more than 1,000 Indonesians, in front of the notorious prison. They obviously were waiting to welcome all political prisoners as they had been promised.

However, they began to boo government officials and prison guards when they learned about the release of just two prisoners.

Around 200 students and relatives unfurled protest banners asking the government to release all the political prisoners, which include East Timor resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. ''Free Xanana Gusmao,'' read one banner.

Muladi, who had attended a Cabinet meeting earlier Monday, had mentioned the names of Pamungkas and Pakpahan, saying that the Cabinet had agreed to release them but not the ones whose cases ''involved the propagation of communism, Marxism or Leninism, as well as those held for crimes and acts against pancasila and the 1945 constitution''.

Pancasila (''the five pillars'') is Indonesia's state ideology, whose components are trust in God, humanity, national unity, democracy and social justice.

It was obviously a reference to communist leaders jailed in the late 1960s as well as younger student activists of the left-leaning People's Democratic Party (PRD) and separatist fighters for East Timor.

Pakpahan, chairman of the unrecognised Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union, had been charged with inciting the 1994 riots in the city of Medan in northern Sumatra, but his case has never been brought to trial.

The union leader, who has had to be treated for respiratory problems since March last year, was also charged with subversive activities in 1996 due to the publication of his book on trade unionism and a speech to a Portuguese university.

Pamungkas, formerly a legislator of the United Development Party, had been charged with defaming former president Suharto and organising a protest against him in Dresden, Germany in 1995.

The unexpected refusals from Pamungkas and Pakpahan prompted Muladi to negotiate with them and their lawyers. It is still not clear if the two prisoners will accept the amnesty.

Muladi said only that Cipinang prison officials had released them from their cells though the two prisoners, who met their wives and relatives, had refused to leave the prison.

An aide to Pakpahan Rekson Silaban said the two had actually agreed to leave the prison if Muladi gave them a time frame for the release of the other prisoners but as he had refused to give them an answer they had remained in the prison.

Muladi reportedly said all the political prisoners, including the East Timor freedom fighters, would be pardoned after the government had set criteria, adding that the amnesty was part of the government's efforts to promote human rights and meet international criteria on political freedom.

According to the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, there are more than 200 political prisoners, ranging from student leaders like Budiman Sujatmiko and Muslim activists to elderly communist cadres, some of whom have been held for more than 25 years.

The 36-member Cabinet unanimously approved plans to breathe life into Indonesia's restrictive political system.

''The principle is elections as soon as possible after we prepare the laws,'' State Secretary and chief government spokesman Akbar Tandjung said after the meeting.

However, legal experts say the changes and preparations for elections will take time and polls are not likely to be held before next year.

With new elections a new session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which meets once in five years after parliamentary elections, is possible.

The 1,000-member MPR includes 500 MPs as well as military and civilian officials appointed by the president.

At present only three political parties are allowed to contest polls, and campaigning is restricted to a few weeks before elections.

''The president has discussed making political activity more free ... including allowing anyone in society to form political parties and organisations,'' Tandjung said.

Under the current laws general elections are held every five years, and the next one is not due until 2002. Suharto's Golkar party has won every election with massive margins since the former army general took power in 1965.

Friday, May 22, 1998

Tears, laughter as Suharto quits

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA, 22 May 1998 -- President Suharto was being hemmed in from all sides last night as hundreds of thousands of protesters marched throughout Indonesia demanding he quit immediately and parliamentary leaders gave him until tomorrow to resign.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also joined the chorus yesterday,calling on President Suharto to ''preserve his legacy'' by stepping down and permitting a transition of democracy.

Albright increased the pressure on Suharto, with whom US administrations have had few disputes with during his 32 years in power. Albright said ''now he has an opportunity for an historic act of statesmanship'' by stepping down.

More than 250,000 people marched against the ageing leader in his homeprovince Yogyakarta while political leaders jockeyed for his ouster and the military assumed control of the capital. Hundreds of thousands of people staged largely peaceful protests in about half a dozen other cities.

A planned massive protest for Suharto's immediate resignation was called off yesterday after an army general threatened another ''Tiananmen Square massacre'' in the capital.

The turning point came at dawn when Muslim leader Amien Rais, who had promised to gather a million people on the streets of Jakarta to force Suharto from power, sounded the retreat. He went on television, looking distinctly shaken, to ask the people to pray instead.

He later said a general had told him the army did not care if Indonesia had its own Tiananmen Square -- a reference to the massacre of hundreds of students in the Chinese capital in 1989 which snuffed out a pro- democracy movement.

''Somebody told me, who happens to be an army general, that he doesn't care at all if ... an accident like Tiananmen will take place today,'' Rais said. ''I was shocked by the army's determination.''

As troops and tanks sealed off central Monas Square -- Jakarta's equivalent of Tiananmen -- Rais said he would join 15,000 students at Parliament with 100,000 of his supporters.

He turned up but few of his followers did.Fearing a possible bloodbath, Rais appealed for protester to remain peaceful and said Suharto's days were numbered. ''Suharto is counting the days,'' hesaid.

Meanwhile, an amphibious US Marine force led by a helicopter carrier was diverted to Indonesia in case a military evacuation of Americans was required.

In Jakarta, more than 60,000 students remained inside the Indonesian parliament building yesterday as parliamentary leaders met with President Suharto and told him he must resign by tomorrow.

Student spokesman Sardini told his peers the leaders of the House of Representatives are to start the preparations for a special session on the People's Consultative Assembly on Monday if Suharto fails to reply tomorrow.

The announcement was greeted by a storm of applause and cheers by the students who are demanding the 77-year-old Suharto immediately resign. They spurned an earlier pledge by Suharto for new elections in which he stated he would not run, as inadequate.

Students from more than 80 colleges and universities around Jakarta began arriving at the parliamentary compound in hundreds of buses and trucks.

Clad in their respective uniforms, the students ignored hour-long heavy midday rains and gathered inside the parliament building.

Many of them also climbed the domes on the building and daringly unfurled their banners which read, ''Suharto, the world wants you to go now'', ''Suharto is the market enemy'' and ''Suharto go to hell with your plan. Step down now''.Hundreds of white-collar workers, including stock brokers, fund managers and young executives surprisingly also joined the protest clad in their suits and ties.

Irsyad Sudiro, the parliamentarian chief of the ruling Golkar party, of which Harmoko is the chairman, said it has five options for resolving the political crisis in Southeast Asia's largest country.

Four of the five choices require Suharto and Vice President B J Habibie to resign and a special meeting of the Assembly, the highest state institution, to be organised.

The fifth alternative was to accept Suharto's proposal for fresh elections in which Suharto would not be a candidate.''We prefer to have the special meeting and suggested it be held on June 8,'' said Irsyad.

His statement, although slightly different from the one issued by Harmoko, means Suharto's own party has asked for his resignation.

Many journalists, students and politicians here find it hard to believe such a proposal. Suharto was ''re-elected'' for his seventh five- year term in office on March 11. Now, the same people in this rubber-stamp Parliament are demanding Suharto step down.

Harmoko, a former journalist, is widely known to be a close aide to Suharto who always defended his boss while in office. Harmoko also repeatedly closed down newspapers while a cabinet member in order to please Suharto.

Suharto's last days, however, still depend on the military whose members have a decisive vote within the House. A meeting reportedly took place at military headquarters but the result is not yet known.

If the military faction supports the Golkar proposal, as the two minority parties -- the United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party -- have done, then Suharto really must resign tomorrow. Otherwise, he might choose to use violence against his loyalists-turned- enemies.

'I beg forgiveness for mistakes andshortcomings'

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

JAKARTA, 22 May 1998 -- Clad in a dark suit, Indonesian strongman Suharto made a public appearance of not more than 10 minutes when he declared his resignation yesterday in the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta.

The situation inside the palace was a bit chaotic and unusual as many foreign journalists had appeared wearing jeans and sport shirts. Palace security officers could do nothing but let them in.

Following is an unofficial translation of President Suharto's resignation speech moved by Reuters:

My fellow countrymen. I have been following closely the recent developments in the national situation, especially the aspirations of the people for reforms in all aspects of the nation's life.

I deeply understand their aspirations and, convinced that reforms should be carried out in an orderly, peaceful and constitutional manner while maintaining the country's unity and carrying forward its development.

Therefore, I had planned to form a reform committee and reshuffle the cabinet. But the facts today show that there has not been sufficient support for the creation of the reform committee and it cannot be formed.

I have concluded that the reform committee is not the best way to carry out the reforms and therefore a cabinet reshuffle is no longer necessary.

In view of this situation, I find it difficult to carry out my duty as the country's ruler and to push ahead with the nation's development. Because of that, based on Article 8 of the 1945 constitution, and having taken into consideration the views of leaders of the House of Representatives and its factions, I have decided to step down from office as the president of Indonesia, effective today, Thursday, May 21, 1998, as I read this statement.

My resignation from the office of the president of the Republic of Indonesia is also conveyed to the leaders of the House of Representatives, who are also the leaders of the People's Consultative Assembly, at a gathering earlier this morning.

As Article 8 of the 1945 constitution lays out, the vice-president, Professor Dr B J Habibie, will carry out the remainder of the presidential term from 1998-2003.

I thank the people for their help and support during my leadership of this country and I beg forgiveness for any mistakes and shortcomings and ask that the people will continue to believe in Pancasila [the state ideology] and the 1945 constitution.

From today, the seventh development cabinet is now a caretaker cabinet and to my ministers, I express my thanks.

As the situation does not permit a swearing-in at the House of Representatives, the swearing-in of the Vice President as President will be carried out now to prevent a leadership vacuum in the governing of the country.

Balance of power up in air in Indonesia

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, Friday 22 May 1998 -- Military miscalculation in handling an aborted student rally apparently helped end the rule of former president Suharto and changed the political balance inside the Indonesian armed forces.

It is an open secret here that the military is divided into two major camps. The first camp is headed by armed forces commander Gen Wiranto, who refused to use force against the students.

The second camp is headed by Lt Gen Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in- law who heads the army's strategic and reserve command, who did not hesitate to mobilise tanks, barbed wire and soldiers with automatic rifles to set up blockades on Jakarta's major roads on Wednesday. He is close to Jakarta military commander Maj Gen Sjafrie Sjamsuddin.

The second camp apparently had the upper hand on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Both Sjafrie and Prabowo were shown on television rallying their men into the fighting spirit. They decided to crack down on the students who had vowed to organise a march of one million on Wednesday.

Wiranto disappeared from public view and opposition leader Amien Rais simply cancelled the Wednesday morning march and gathered hundreds of thousands of students into the parliamentary compound.

Another miscalculation took place in Yogyakarta. More than one million protesters marched down the main streets of Yogyakarta, about 500 kilometres east of Jakarta, demanding Suharto's resignation. No significant military presence was seen in the area.

Apparently the protests, both at parliament and Yogyakarta helped parliament members decide they should force Suharto to step down. Suharto stepped down yesterday.

Coincidentally, Prabowo and Sjafrie then disappeared from public view. Wiranto consolidated his power and yesterday announced the military would support Suharto's resignation.

Military spokesman Wahab Mokodongan said Amien's decision to cancel the Wednesday march was ''wise and significant''. Prabowo's miscalculation resulted in his father-in-law losing his job.

The balance of power has not been decided yet. Prabowo probably advised Suharto to chose Habibie as the successor in order to provide Prabowo with a weaker president to deal with rather than having to deal with Minister of Defence Wiranto, Home Affairs Minister R Hartono and Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.

Under Indonesian law, if both president and vice president resign, power is transferred to a troika of the three ministers.

Suharto, therefore, opted not to ask Habibie to step down in order to preserve a more advantageous position for his son-in-law. The battle is not over yet.

Men behind the decision

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, Friday 22 May 1998 -- Suharto probably never dreamed that his loyal Harmoko, a former cabinet member and parliamentary speaker, and Irsyad Sudiro, parliamentarian chief of the Golkar ruling party, would give the final touch to force the ageing leader's resignation.

Their bold opposition began on Monday when Harmoko surprisingly announced that the House of Representatives had asked the Peoples Consultative Assembly, the highest state body, to conduct a special session for questions over Suharto's accountability.

However, the call was neutralised when Gen Wiranto, commander of the powerful armed forces, said the call had been made by ''individuals''.

Harmoko refused to surrender and Sudiro came to his help. Since Tuesday morning, working around the clock, Sudiro and scores of other Golkar legislators tried to find ways, including five alternatives, to ask for Suharto's resignation.

However, Suharto came out with a proposal to keep his post while organising a fresh election. The students and legislators obviously did not trust Suharto anymore.

Harmoko, Sudiro along with other legislators offered choices to Suharto on Wednesday morning when he chose to resign and let Habibie take over.

''He wants to have a constitutional process to transfer the power. We told him that we believed he is wise and sage in sacrificing for the country but that he had to resign,'' said Harmoko.

On Wednesday night Suharto made up his mind and told his closest aides and friends that he would resign yesterday morning.

Thursday, May 21, 1998

'Tiananmen threat' halts rally

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, Thursday 21 May 1998 -- President Suharto was being hemmed in from all sides last night as hundreds of thousands of protesters marched throughout Indonesia demanding he quit immediately and parliamentary leaders gave him until tomorrow to resign.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also joined the chorus yesterday,calling on President Suharto to ''preserve his legacy'' by stepping down and permitting a transition of democracy.

Albright increased the pressure on Suharto, with whom US administrations have had few disputes with during his 32 years in power. Albright said ''now he has an opportunity for an historic act of statesmanship'' by stepping down.

More than 250,000 people marched against the ageing leader in his hometown while political leaders jockeyed for his ouster and the military assumed control of the capital.

Hundreds of thousands of people staged largely peaceful protests in about half a dozen other cities.

A planned massive protest for Suharto's immediate resignation was called off yesterday after an army general threatened another ''Tiananmen Square massacre'' in the capital.

The turning point came at dawn when Muslim leader Amien Rais, who had promised to gather a million people on the streets of Jakarta to force Suharto from power, sounded the retreat. He went on television, looking distinctly shaken, to ask the people to pray instead.

He later said a general had told him the army did not care if Indonesia had its own Tiananmen Square -- a reference to the massacre of hundreds of students in the Chinese capital in 1989 which snuffed out a pro- democracy movement.

''Somebody told me, who happens to be an army general, that he doesn't care at all if ... an accident like Tiananmen will take place today,'' Rais said.

''I was shocked by the army's determination.'' As troops and tanks sealed off central Monas Square -- Jakarta's equivalent of Tiananmen -- Rais said he would join 15,000 students at Parliament with 100,000 of his supporters. He turned up but few of his followers did.

Fearing a possible bloodbath, Rais appealed for protester to remain peaceful and said Suharto's days were numbered. ''Suharto is counting the days,'' hesaid.

Meanwhile, an amphibious US Marine force led by a helicopter carrier was diverted to Indonesia in case a military evacuation of Americans was required.

In Jakarta, more than 60,000 students remained inside the Indonesian parliament building yesterday as parliamentary leaders met with President Suharto and told him he must resign by tomorrow.

Student spokesman Sardini told his peers the leaders of the House of Representatives are to start the preparations for a special session on the People's Consultative Assembly on Monday if Suharto fails to reply tomorrow.

The announcement was greeted by a storm of applause and cheers by the students who are demanding the 77-year-old Suharto immediately resign. They spurned an earlier pledge by Suharto for new elections in which he stated he would not run, as inadequate.

Students from more than 80 colleges and universities around Jakarta began arriving at the parliamentary compound in hundreds of buses and trucks.

Clad in their respective uniforms, the students ignored hour-long heavy midday rains and gathered inside the parliament building. Many of them also climbed the domes on the building and daringly unfurled their banners which read, ''Suharto, the world wants you to go now'', ''Suharto is the market enemy'' and ''Suharto go to hell with your plan. Step down now''.

Hundreds of white-collar workers, including stock brokers, fund managers and young executives surprisingly also joined the protest clad in their suits and ties.

Irsyad Sudiro, the parliamentarian chief of the ruling Golkar party, of which Harmoko is the chairman, said it has five options for resolving the political crisis in Southeast Asia's largest country.

Four of the five choices require Suharto and Vice President B J Habibie to resign and a special meeting of the Assembly, the highest state institution, to be organised. The fifth alternative was to accept Suharto's proposal for fresh elections in which Suharto would not be a candidate.

''We prefer to have the special meeting and suggested it be held on June 8,'' said Irsyad. His statement, although slightly different from the one issued by Harmoko, means Suharto's own party has asked for his resignation.

Many journalists, students and politicians here find it hard to believe such a proposal. Suharto was ''re-elected'' for his seventh five- year term in office on March 11. Now, the same people in this rubber-stamp Parliament are demanding Suharto step down.

Harmoko, a former journalist, is widely known to be a close aide to Suharto who always defended his boss while in office. Harmoko also repeatedly closed down newspapers while a cabinet member in order to please Suharto.

Suharto's last days, however, still depend on the military whose members have a decisive vote within the House. A meeting reportedly took place at military headquarters but the result is not yet known.

If the military faction supports the Golkar proposal, as the two minority parties -- the United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party -- have done, then Suharto really must resign tomorrow. Otherwise, he might choose to use violence against his loyalists-turned- enemies.

Tuesday, May 19, 1998

Indonesian army backs Suharto

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, 19 May 1998 -- Indonesian military commander Gen Wiranto Monday turned down a parliamentarian proposal to ask President Suharto to step down and said the Indonesian armed forces preferred to see a cabinet reshuffle and moderate reform over presidential succession.

''Abri the armed forces perceives the proposal to be the opinion of some individuals, presented collectively, but not representative of the House of Representatives,'' Wiranto said.

All of Indonesia's six television and more than 600 radio stations broadcast the military announcement, repeating it every five minutes and giving the impression that the military was quite disturbed by the proposal in Parliament.

Wiranto held the impromptu press conference after meeting with the chiefs of staff of the army, air force, navy and the police.

Clad in their star-studded green uniforms, the generals sat next to Wiranto to face more than 100 foreign and local journalists at the Ministry of Defence in central Jakarta.

Lt Gen Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in-law who is also the commander of the army strategic and reserve command (Kostrad), also attended the meeting and accompanied Wiranto in the conference.

The meeting was held some hours after House speaker Harmoko along with four deputies made their unexpected move. They supported the public call for reform and surprisingly called on President Suharto to step down.

''We believe that President Suharto has the wisdom and the heart to give way to another leader to lead the reform,'' said Harmoko, who is also the chairman of Suharto's ruling Golkar party and a 15-year member of the cabinet.

The call in parliament for Suharto to step down came after growing pressure to do so by various organisations of students, opposition politicians, Muslim and Christian leaders, union leaders, as well as business managers.

Jakarta remained a gloomy capital Monday night, with thousands of burned and looted buildings, from Bekasi in the eastern part of the city to Tangerang in the west. Huge shopping malls turned off their lights as bodies of burned-out cars still littered the quiet streets.

In housing areas from the kampungs to middle class areas, men were seen wielding clubs and knives to guard their houses.

In a move to soften his backing of Suharto, Wiranto said the military would help set up a reform council to work closely with intellectuals, students and parliamentarians to organise moderate reforms.

''Abri cannot tolerate people and organisations which advocate for their own interests,'' Wiranto said, as if trying to say that Harmoko and his deputies, who are widely known to have been Suharto loyalists in the past, switched sides in the last minute just to save themselves.

''Abri understands that the demand that President Suharto step down has no constitutional basis. Such a demand should be made by all the members of the House,'' Wiranto said.

As thousands of students from the provinces flowed into Jakarta, the general called on them not to conduct their planned nationwide protest Wednesday. The protest is to commemorate Indonesian students who established the first modern organisation, during the Dutch colonial period in 1908.

Earlier Monday, some 6,000 students from 46 universities rallied inside the compound of the House of Representatives, joined by a dozen retired generals and key opposition leader Amien Rais, and threatened not to leave until Suharto steps down.

''If today there is no clear explanation from Mr Harmoko, we will continue to wait here,'' a student representative said. ''Suharto must resign today.'' Amien, head of the 28 million-strong Muslim group Muhammidiyah, has pledged to lead a major protest Wednesday on the riot- scarred streets of Jakarta.

''Suharto, the people do not trust you any longer. Please abandon your power. Please return your mandate to the People's Consultative Assembly,'' he shouted.

Besides the thousands of students inside the compound, around 1,000 people gathered outside the gates to observe the spectacle, causing a major traffic jam.

Saturday, May 09, 1998

Sharpshooters assigned to deal with Indonesia protests

Sharpshooters assigned to deal with I'nesia protests

ANDREAS HARSONO
The Nation

JAKARTA, 9 May 1998 -- The Indonesian government ordered soldiers to shoot looters and arsonists in the riot-torn city of Medan in northern Sumatra as protests spread into other provinces against a controversial government policy.

Medan police chief Lt-Col Nono Priyono said sharpshooters had been assigned to take part in patrolling the city on motorcycles. "They had a standing order to shoot troublemakers on sight. They can be dispatched to the scene of trouble instantly," Priyono said on Thursday.

Witnesses and victims had earlier complained that the troopers had done almost nothing to prevent looting. The soldiers reportedly only sat and looked on while burning and looting took place right in front of their eyes.

Meanwhile other key Indonesian cities such as Jakarta and Surabaya in eastern Java also saw bigger street demonstrations protesting against the petroleum-price hike and demanding that President Suharto, who has been in power since 1965, step down.

Students in Jakarta burnt the 77-year-old leader in effigy, saying that Suharto was a major cause of the economic crisis currently hitting Indonesia. Some student leaders said in their speeches that the crisis had created massive unemployment and higher prices and had prompted firms to close down.

"Hang Suharto! Hang Suharto!" the students chanted in unison.

Indonesian media, however, reported yesterday that Medan was mostly calm, albeit tense, on Thursday after three days of rioting which began on Monday when thousands of Medan students went on to the street to protest against the petrol price hike.

A strong police presence was in position on most of Medan's main roads as the city struggled to restore calm, but most shops and banks remained closed. Prices of basic commodities also increased because of the closure.

The riots began on Monday when students in Medan clashed with the police.

The protesters managed to penetrate police barricades and get away from their campuses. Others joined in and turned the initially peaceful rally into an anti-Chinese riot.

The protesters attacked Chinese-owned buildings, looted various goods from spring beds to sacks of rice and burned down Chinese-owned shops.

Some Chinese shopkeepers were also beaten while they were trying to persuade the mob not to loot their shops.

According to police, around 170 shops were destroyed and 38 cars and 21 motorcycles were set on fire. The police confirmed just one death, although other witnesses put the death toll at six, mostly due to people becoming trapped by fires.

Police spokesmen said 423 people had been arrested during the three- day riot, including 145 university students and 28 high-school students. The others were workers.