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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

ASSESSING THE MAY RIOTS

Investigators cite links to a "political struggle"


A VERDICT ON HISTORY rarely goes unchallenged. The one presented Nov. 3 in Jakarta by Indonesia's Joint Fact-Finding Team on the events of May 13-15 this year was no exception. Formed in July by the government in response to public pressure to probe the large-scale unrest that hit the capital and four major cities, the panel had delayed by over a week the publication of its findings because of internal differences of opinion. With members drawn from government, the military and non-official groups, it often had arguments that sometimes were blistering. Even so, said team chairman Marzuki Darusman, "there is no split. We argued but we cooperated."

What the team came up with was enough of an indictment. In an executive summary for reporters, it linked the riots to an "elite political struggle." During the unrest, there were "key players on the field." Indeed, said the report, the violence must be seen in the context of the kidnapping of activists earlier this year and the May 12 shooting of students from Trisakti University, which sparked much of the rioting. The team noted that while some of the unrest was spontaneous, instigation was also present. And it said that steps had been taken to implement the emergency powers given earlier to president Suharto. Yet no one was named as having planned the turmoil. Politics aside, reasons cited for the rioting include the economic crisis, the socio-economic gap and popular perceptions of injustice.

The report was fuzzy in some respects, though. It gave no single figure for people killed or wounded, and concluded 52 women had been raped, though other sources believe that the number was far higher. "According to the government," said commission member Bambang Wijoyanto, "there were no rapes." He said that government members approached matters legalistically, while others were willing to consider more testimonies and evidence than what would be valid in a courtroom. The team could offer no proof that the riots and rapes had been planned or that the ethnic-Chinese community, which bore the brunt of the violence, had been intentionally targeted. Nor did it find any "religious aspect" to the sexual assaults. There were "missing links" in the chain of evidence, the report concluded.

One was a meeting held the evening of May 14 at the headquarters of the Army Strategic Reserve, then commanded by Lt.-Gen. Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in-law. The team recommended an investigation of that session, and that Prabowo be brought before a military court for the kidnapping cases. It also blamed Jakarta commander Maj.-Gen. Syafrie Syamsuddin for failing to keep the peace in the capital. To support continuing investigations, the team recommended a program to protect witnesses. And its members called upon the government to cleanse the criminality that has lodged in nearly all social classes and sectors in the nation.

Despite the lack of definitive answers in key areas, the report confirms a widespread belief: that Indonesia had, and perhaps still has, a political elite willing to cause social turmoil for its own interest - and a military that, at least in this case, was powerless to protect ordinary citizens from the resulting violence.

Political scientist Mochtar Buchori expects the public to "become more critical of the government and the armed forces" after learning of the report, whose full text has yet to be released. The commission's Wijoyanto believes not only the government but the people should read it. Thus the report will likely be more a beginning than an ending. If it leads to the exposing and exorcising of the demon of political violence in Indonesia, the report - and the team - will have a place in history.

- By Jose Manuel Tesoro/Jakarta


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