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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

MAY 13


AT 9:15 A.M., SEVERAL thousand students attended a memorial service at Trisakti. A plastic tent marked a blood stain on the pavement near M Building, the flag flew at half-mast, and nearly every one of the government's critics arrived to give a speech. After the commemoration had concluded and Indonesia's new political celebrities had left the scene, witnesses say the mood turned ugly fast.

A crowd had earlier gathered outside the campus gates. Now the mob began marching down the road. Sensing trouble, the students refused to leave the university grounds. Those who were there say after that the march quickly disintegrated into mayhem. Rioters vandalized cars parked at the nearby Citraland mall and set two toll booths on fire. The violence spread throughout west Jakarta and then beyond.

As smoke from many fires rose above the buildings, Adnan Buyung Nasution, a prominent lawyer, and Bambang Widjoyanto, chief of the Legal Aid Institute, met Prabowo for about 30 minutes at Kostrad headquarters. They recall asking him about his involvement in the kidnappings of at least a dozen political activists. They brought up the suspected conflict between him and Wiranto. Prabowo swore he knew nothing about the kidnappings and denied any rivalry with Wiranto.

Some time between 4 and 5 p.m., Wiranto ordered Jakarta military commander Maj.-Gen. Syafrie Syamsuddin to send troops to control the spreading violence, says a high-ranking military officer. Syafrie did order some troops on to the streets. But he did not deploy them with dispatch, send them to the areas where they were most needed or give them clear orders. Troops barracked in the western part of the city were commanded to go the east, says the officer, and those in the east to go west.

Prabowo urged Wiranto to allow him to bring his special reserve units into the capital, says a high-ranking military officer, but Wiranto refused. At about 7 p.m., Wiranto checked with Syafrie and was not pleased with the response. It was then that Wiranto asked the Central Java commander to send troops to Jakarta. Their journey took more than a full day. Prabowo and officers loyal to him, such as Syafrie, controlled most of the troops deployed in Jakarta. Before the soldiers from Central Java arrived, insiders suspect that Wiranto did not want to send out the few troops he could rely on, fearing they might encounter armed resistance.

At 6:30 p.m. Susi, a student at a central Jakarta university, was heading home by bus on her usual route, passing by Citraland and Trisakti. As the bus reached the mall, a dozen or more men surrounded it, forcing the driver to stop. They shouted at the passengers to get off, or burn with the vehicle. Eventually all 50 or so people got off the bus. Then the rioters set it aflame.

Susi began her long walk home. On the darkened highway, burning cars and motorcycles lit the way. The crowds were getting wilder. Hundreds of people were on the streets and hundreds more stood at the edges watching the destruction. An unarmed man tried to rob Susi. She refused to hand over her purse and ran. He chased her.

When he was near, Susi grabbed the man closest to her. Wahyu couldn't offer much protection, but he didn't shake her off either. Susi swore the only money she had was what she carried in her pocket, about 10 cents. He took it, she says, and yelled that she was a crazy Chinese girl.

Wahyu gave Susi his hat to help cover her face and, since they were heading in the same direction, they set off together. Along the way Susi saw a car burned with passengers inside. She heard shouts of "Banish the Chinese." Across the highway, she saw a huddled group of girls who had been stripped naked. People stood watching. Susi tried not to.

She and Wahyu left the main road. Around 9 p.m. they stopped for tea at a family-run shop. The owners' son returned from a look at the road ahead. He would say only that "they were doing terrible things to the Chinese." The couple offered to put up Susi. Early the next morning, they arranged for a friend to drive her home and gave her a jilbab (Muslim headscarf) to wear just in case. Susi put on Wahyu's hat instead. By 9:30 a.m. she had arrived home safely.

Stores on the main road of her neighborhood had been burned and looted. Those who had written "Muslim-owned" on their shop gates were largely spared. Susi's mother, who runs a cosmetics store, didn't want to do so. Located on a side street, the store was not touched. For a week afterward, Susi's neighborhood organized night watches. Everyone gathered weapons, from samurai swords to golf clubs.

About the time Susi left her university, a Chinese Indonesian businessman arrived home in Jembatan Lima, a mostly Chinese area. His wife had called him at work, nervous about crowds of people she didn't recognize roaming the street carrying stones.

Nearby, his brother-in-law saw five rough-looking men shattering building windows with rocks to attract attention. When a group had gathered from the surrounding kampungs, the five encouraged them to enter the building (a bottled water warehouse), take what they wanted, burn what they didn't. Then they said: "Let's go damage another place." And the crowds went.

That night the neighborhood bank was looted, cars burned. A gold store was cleaned out, a food market destroyed. Residents phoned the police station and military post for help. No one answered their calls.

At about midnight, says a relief worker named Karyo, a "godfather" asked a young gang member and drug user to meet in the morning for a "street party." According to Karyo, who runs the Volunteer Team for Humanity, the man told him the godfather's request amounted to an order, so he went. He was asked to put on a school uniform, travel to an area called Klender and start a fight. He lost the group, says Karyo, before reaching the destination.

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