Thursday, June 04, 1998

Jakarta riots provoked, says panel

The Nation

-- 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.

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