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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

A 'DISAPPEARED' SPEAKS OUT

And his testimony implicates the armed forces


HE WAS SUPPOSED TO give his testimony behind closed doors. Only the members of the government-sponsored National Human Rights Commission would learn what had happened to Pius Lustrilanang, a 30-year-old activist, during the two months he had been missing. But when reporters arrived at the commission's offices on April 27, the door to the hearing was open.

In a quiet voice, Lustrilanang spoke of his abduction in Jakarta in early February and of his detention in a small, dark room with a radio blasting full volume. He said he was constantly questioned and subjected to electric shocks and beatings. His head was held under water. "People entered this place alive and left dead," his captors told him. Upstairs, he said, he knew others were also being interrogated and tortured.

Lustrilanang is the secretary-general of SIAGA, a diffuse alliance of supporters of opposition leaders Megawati Sukarnoputri and Amien Rais which organized demonstrations in February. His abductors prodded him for information about the group's activities. On April 3, he resurfaced in his hometown in South Sumatra. Until Lustrilanang, no detainee has dared to talk publicly after being released. "I speak under the risk of death," he told the commission. "But Ichose to because I want this all to end." On April 28, he left Indonesia for Amsterdam. Apparently he will retell his account before the European Parliament. And then he will decide what to do next.

Since anti-government demonstrations erupted in February, at least 14 activists, including students, have been reported missing. Six are still unaccounted for. Lustrilanang could not identify his abductors. But the Indonesian military (known as ABRI) is the obvious suspect. No other institution has a history of such actions. And the description of a detention center of sorts makes military claims that criminals are responsible for the disappearances less credible. Lt.-Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, head of ABRI's socio-political section, says that kidnappings are not military policy and that ABRI chief Gen. Wiranto has told the police to search for the missing.

The suggestion of military complicity has unmasked the conciliatory face ABRI has recently shown toward student protesters and other government critics. "On one side ABRI issues invitations to dialogues," says Munir, a lawyer for a legal aid foundation. "But on the other side, this repression continues."

Kidnappings and torture have long been part of ABRI's arsenal, especially against insurgents. The tactic also has been used to quell dissidents and other "undesirables." Killings of suspected criminals in Jakarta in the 1980s were traced to ABRI. The reappearance of the "disappearances" may mean that old, bad habits linger. Or, worryingly, that some soldiers are following different orders. Or, worse, that ABRI's friendly gestures are just that - gestures.

- By Jose Manuel Tesoro/Jakarta


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