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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 14


AT ABOUT 2 A.M., according to a military officer, the regional military command, headed by Prabowo's old friend Syafrie, began issuing radio instructions to groups on the streets. Throughout the day, people in Syafrie's HQ were overheard ordering men where to go next. Eventually the frequency was jammed; only Kopassus special forces and army intelligence can do that.

Just after dawn, says another military source, gangsters from Lampung in south Sumatra were escorted into town by Kopassus troops, the force Prabowo commanded from 1995 to February this year. A civilian who works with the military said that in the week before the riots, hundreds of young men trained by Kopassus were brought from East Timor to Jakarta. He says they were flown from Dili to Jogjakarta in chartered planes. They traveled from Jogjakarta to the capital by train. The aircraft company told Asiaweek its policy is not to discuss flights.

Early in the morning, Karyo, the volunteer aid worker, got an anonymous phone call: Jatinegara Plaza, in east Jakarta, would burn that day. Witnesses say eight men arrived in Jatinegara soon after. One set a tire ablaze to attract the attention of people living in the surrounding kampungs. When a crowd had gathered, four of the men led them to the plaza, which had opened for business. They looted, and the security officers watched.

Hours later someone fired tear gas into the plaza's lower floor. Two witnesses say a man splashed gasoline at the entrance and then set the place on fire. On the third floor another man reportedly started a blaze by burning a roll of cloth. He escaped down the drain pipe. Seventy others, including many who worked in the plaza stores, burned to death. The fire department and police did not respond.

Further east in Klender, Yogya Plaza was also under attack. Witnesses say a group of men goaded those gathered on the streets to take what they wanted. The men, short-haired, fit and attired in black jackets, said they were college students. After several hours, one of the men warned looters to get out of the building quickly. Soon after, he and three others soaked a large piece of cloth in kerosene, touched matches to it, tossed it into the plaza and left. About 100 people died there.

In west Jakarta, a crowd gathered in Meruya. They had heard a rumor that the neighborhood market would be burned. Soon, witnesses say, two minibuses dropped off a group of men well past their teenage years but wearing high school uniforms. They used gasoline bombs to start a fire. As residents watched the blaze, the men slipped away.

Later that morning, a few men who looked too old and big for the high school uniforms they were wearing started fighting on the main street of Sunter. Soon they began to burn tires. At least three motorcyclists were seen circling the neighborhood. Suyitno, a community military liaison, says he offered one directions, but the motorcyclist rode away.

Suyitno had been in regular communication with the local military command post for the past two days. He says someone at headquarters told him: "If you are stoned by the rioters, respond with a smile. I order you only to smile, that is all." Soldiers in the area say they received similar commands, or none at all. When some officers provided superiors with details of the spreading violence, they were told to stand by for instructions. Suyitno says an officer told him: "I have noticed that similarly unclear orders have been issued in Jatinegara and Klender."

Meanwhile, police units were ordered to assemble in their compounds but stay put, says a source close to Jakarta police commander, Maj.-Gen. Hamami Nata (who was later replaced). Most police dared not leave, he says, because they were not sure whose orders to follow. Firemen also were told not to report to work.

Glodok Plaza stands at the center of Jakarta's commercial district, Chinatown. Muladi, a security officer, watched as more than 2,000 people walked to the plaza at 4 p.m., some carrying bags of stones, others with tools to pry open the gates. A few carried gasoline bombs. The police fired in the air, but the mob ignored them. Eventually the police stepped aside; Glodok Plaza was ripped open and burned out. People carted off computers, refrigerators and TVs until the fire began around 7 p.m. Nobody arrived to douse the flames. "It was worse than war," Muladi recalls, "because we couldn't call for back-up."

By late afternoon the smoke had thickened in a Chinese businessman's neighborhood, flames were visible and he was nervous. He could not pass through by car so he tried to make his way by foot. A large crowd had gathered, its size daunting the few military men in sight. Then the businessman saw more people running from inside the compound. As they approached a supermarket, a few at the front of the mob broke its metal door and then kept moving. A second group rushed inside, dragged out some clothing and set it on fire. Others encouraged bystanders to loot.

It was the middle of the night before he reached his home. Fire still lapped at what was left of it. It was the next morning before he could enter, accompanied by two military policemen. The first and second floors had been gutted. He made his way to the family apartment on the third floor. The living room had been ransacked and what was left had been singed. In his bedroom he found his wife, burned to death. Under the bed, he found the body of his younger daughter, aged 17. He discovered his eldest daughter, 18, in a wardrobe. She had died with a mobile phone and bible in her hands.

Throughout the day, up to 468 women were attacked by groups of men in over 15 places, says Rosita Noer, a doctor and human-rights activist. In 10 areas, groups of women were assaulted. They were attacked in their shops, homes and cars. Sometimes men were made to undress and watch. Or rape their neighbors. The attackers were strangers to their victims. Most women were Chinese, the others may have been mistaken for Chinese or working for Chinese families. At least 20 were killed or died after being raped; others killed themselves.

According to Ita Nadia, head of the women's center Kalyanamitra, 10 men forced their way into one house, smashing everything they could lay their hands on. Then they raped the mother and daughter in front of the father and son. An elderly woman at home watching her grandchildren was raped with a bottle. Elsewhere, a mother tried to kill herself after her two teenage daughters were attacked in front of her. One father gave his daughter Baygon insecticide to help her commit suicide after she was assaulted. A mother died of a heart attack after hearing her daughter had been raped.

In a 15-floor apartment building in the middle-class area of Pluit, in north Jakarta, several groups of men moved systematically from floor to floor attacking Chinese women. From 9 a.m. to noon, they had control of the building and may have raped more than 40 girls and women.

Three sisters were minding the family shop when seven "dark, strong, not ordinary" men forced their way in around 4 p.m. The girls ran to their apartment on the third floor. The men chased and caught them. They raped the younger two sisters, telling the third that she was too old for them. Then arsonists set fire to the ground floor, and the two girls were pushed to their deaths. The eldest sister was rescued by neighbors. The attackers moved through the community; by 7 p.m. several women had been raped and the district burned.

In three Chinese areas of west Jakarta, between 5 and 8 p.m., dozens of men dragged a hundred or so girls on to the streets, stripped them and forced them to dance before a crowd. Twenty were raped, then some burned alive, says Noer. She examined six other victims attacked in their homes in different areas of Jakarta. The girls were all between the ages of 14 and 20; four of them had been raped by seven men. Their entire genital areas, from vagina to anus, had been torn open. "They can be physically cured," says Noer. "But they will be haunted by this forever."

At about 7:30 p.m., Wiranto appeared on television and said the military could control the situation. But the absence of security forces on the streets prompted many embassies to issue evacuation orders. Thousands of foreigners, as well as many ethnic Chinese, began fleeing Jakarta.

As the rapes and looting continued, Prabowo was at Kostrad headquarters, where he met representatives of a youth group and Muslim organizations. According to someone who was there, Prabowo asked them to help calm the situation and give their support to Syafrie. Prabowo was tense, but calm, says his associate. Those who stayed for dinner ordered food; an armored car was sent to pick it up. At about 1 a.m., Prabowo visited the powerful Muslim leader Gus Dur at his home. Then Prabowo returned to Kostrad, where he would stay almost continuously for the next week.

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