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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

DEFENSIVE MANEUVERS

Among Chinese Indonesians, the fear remains

By Susan Berfield and Dewi Loveard / Jakarta


The Internet Many are turning to it for riot information

LT.-GEN. PRABOWO SUBIANTO slipped out the back door of army headquarters Aug. 10 after being grilled about his role in the abductions and torture of more than a dozen political activists earlier this year. Armed forces commander Gen. Wiranto has already ordered a military court to try 10 soldiers, including seven officers, of the elite Kopassus unit for their involvement. Prabowo headed the crack force until March. A military council investigating Prabowo and two other senior officers will soon present its conclusions to Wiranto. Prabowo, a feared, controversial and ambitious general, not to mention the son-in-law of former president Suharto, could be court-martialed too. A retired senior officer, Hasnan Habib, has said that a full investigation should include the armed forces commander at the time, Feisal Tanjung, now a senior minister in the government of B.J. Habibie. Former army chief Gen. Hartono could be summoned as well.

The military is not often forced to concede to public pressure. But these are not ordinary days. The chain of events that led to Suharto's downfall in May eroded the military's credibility. It was not just the kidnapping of dissidents, the shooting of four students at Jakarta's Trisakti University and the rioting, looting and sexual assaults of ethnic-Chinese women in the capital that troubles people. It is the suspicion that groups within the army had a hand in it all.

Wiranto was obliged to apologize for the violence when he launched an investigation into the kidnappings. (Two police officers are already on trial for the Trisakti shootings.) He promised that security had been restored and called on ethnic Chinese, prominent victims of the May riots, to return home and reopen their businesses.

But his words do not resonate. A poll by the Jakarta weekly Kontan found that 76% of its 600 respondents doubted the military's ability to maintain security. Nearly 80% said the armed forces are "inefficient and splintered by internal conflicts." Almost 12% thought the military was involved in the events of May. And despite official reassurances, the intimidation of the Chinese-Indonesian community continues.

A 24-year-old woman narrowly escaped attack on a bus in west Jakarta Aug. 1. About ten minutes into her ride, someone grabbed at her clothes. When she yelled for help, a man slapped her and ordered the other passengers not to move. Another man walked toward her with his pants' zipper open. Just then the bus hit a pothole, throwing her assailants off balance. She ran. When she gave her account to a women's group, the bruises were still visible.

At least 10 rapes and many more threats of attack have been reported in Jakarta since May, says Farha Cici of Kalyanamitra crisis center. The most recent rape, she says, occurred on July 1. That evening four men went to a boarding house looking for a room. The landlord was not home, so the ethnic-Chinese woman who answered the door refused the men entry. They forced their way in, and raped her with an iron bar. During a four-hour operation doctors were unable to save her uterus. The Legal Aid Institute in Bandung, west Java, has confirmed six rapes. There have been reports of pedicab drivers being given money, often less than $2, to attack or rob Chinese passengers. And some have seen anti-Chinese pamphlets circulating. Ester Jusuf, a founder of a Chinese human-rights group, believes the continuing assaults are planned. But so far evidence is hard to come by.

Petty crime, mostly targeting ethnic Chinese and carried out by gangs, is also becoming more common. "My only question now is how to change my face so I won't look Chinese," says Ang Ka Pin, 27. On July 22, about 30 men and two women, dressed in high-school uniforms, jumped onto a bus in Jakarta's main business district. They robbed all the Chinese aboard. Other passengers were spared.

A Chinese businessman told a human-rights activist that his hardware store was cleaned out recently. The next day he received a phone call offering to sell back the stolen goods. He bought them. Soon after, the thief called again to tell the shopkeeper that to stay in business he would have to pay protection money, about $75 a week.

Ethnic Chinese are protecting themselves by whatever means available, from illegal firearms to metal chastity belts. In Bandung, where Chinese boarding houses were marked as future targets, hundreds of female students took leave. Sinta Supono, a sales executive, says Chinese in Jakarta try to avoid working or shopping in their old enclaves. In residential areas, intersections are barricaded and many fences reinforced. At the first rumor of trouble, most ethnic Chinese stay home. But the point is nowhere do they feel safe.

- With additional reporting by Yenni Kwok


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