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SEPTEMBER 25, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 12

Wahid Goes to War
The President takes on dark, destabilizing forces from Indonesia's troubled past. Does he have the will and the weapons to win?
By TERRY MCCARTHY Jakarta

ALSO
Sick Man of Asia: Just how ill is Suharto?
Interview: The Defense Minister sees conspiracies
Outside Help: Can the world do anything to bring peace?


Saludin, a newly hired driver for Coca-Cola in Jakarta, was waiting in his car in the underground parking lot of Jakarta's stock exchange when a bomb exploded last Wednesday. "There was a loud bang and the windows of my car were shattered," the 27-year-old Indonesian recalls. "There were flames everywhere." Saludin jumped out of the front window of the Mitsubishi Galant. The second-floor basement was filling up with black smoke, but he followed signs leading toward the exit ramp. He made it to the first floor and collapsed—"my lungs were full of smoke, and my heart felt it would explode from my chest." Rescue workers found him on the ground, bleeding from the ears and half-conscious, and carried him out to safety.

Not everyone was so lucky: 15 people died in the bombing, many of them from smoke inhalation as they tried in vain to find a way out of the underground lot. The nation was shocked, and the stock exchange—already battered by months of negative economic and political news—shut down for the rest of the week. President Abdurrahman Wahid maintained an ominous silence before dropping a bombshell of his own at a mosque after Friday prayers. Exhibiting a rarely seen streak of decisiveness, he said he had evidence linking the youngest son of former President Suharto, Tommy, with the bombing. Gus Dur, as Wahid is popularly known, told mosque-goers he was ordering the police to arrest him, along with a Muslim activist named Habib Alwi Ali Baaqil. The announcement was greeted by applause by worshipers. "This does not mean they are guilty, but we consider there is enough evidence to arrest them," said the ever-enigmatic Wahid. "What for? To prevent incidents like the Jakarta Stock Exchange bombing from happening again." The police later said they needed more evidence before they could arrest Tommy, but on Saturday morning the 38-year-old tycoon turned up voluntarily at the Jakarta police headquarters, smiling confidently to reporters waiting outside. After two hours inside, Tommy emerged saying, "Ask them [the police] for the evidence. I am really disappointed with Gus Dur's statement." Later, Harry Montolalu, chief of the Criminal Investigation Division at police headquarters, explained the police's position: "To conduct an investigation we have to have evidence. At the moment there is no evidence [against Tommy]. The President hasn't given us any evidence." He said Tommy had just provided "clarification of the matter."


Kemal Jufri/Corbis Sygma for TIME.
Police look for pieces of the bomb which exploded in the basement of the Jakarta Stock Exchange building on Sept. 14, killing 15 people.

The two most burning questions in Jakarta last week remained unanswered. Who set off the bomb? And, no less critical, did the blast shake Wahid out of his political slumber? Initial hopes that the President was serious about naming names began to dissipate when it became clear that, at least for the time being, he had no real evidence to implicate Tommy Suharto. His statement in the mosque began to look like another of the off-the-cuff remarks he often makes that lack substance. But the country desperately needs the President to take back the initiative. In recent months a series of bombings in Jakarta, coupled with violent clashes in the provinces, have seemed designed to destabilize his government and make the half-blind Wahid appear feeble. Two weeks ago militiamen in West Timor killed three United Nations aid workers just as Wahid was flying to New York to attend the U.N. Millennium Summit.

Last week's fatal bombing of the nerve center of the country's financial system upped the stakes, amounting to a declaration of war against Wahid's rule. With former dictator Suharto due to appear in court the following day on corruption charges, few Indonesians had any doubt as to where the threat was coming from. "Every time the old man or any of his children is to be questioned, a bomb explodes somewhere," says Arbi Sanit, a professor at the University of Indonesia. "It has to have some link to him." There was no evidence, just a widely shared conviction that the former President still has powerful allies who would do virtually anything to protect their interests. The only question in many Indonesians' minds was: How decisively would Wahid respond?

Aware of the power that Suharto and his family still possess, Wahid was weighing his options carefully. Early on Thursday morning, before the final death toll from the stock exchange bombing was known, a confidant of Wahid's met with him in the Presidential Palace and urged him to "cut off the head of the snake"—by which he meant taking direct action against the Suharto clique. Wahid, who seemed more upset than angry over the bombing, told the confidant obliquely: "We are getting closer." At an emergency cabinet meeting later that morning, Wahid named several Suharto cronies as likely suspects, according to Defense Minister Mohamad Mahfud. But the cabinet deliberations weren't made public. Wahid was still calculating how to grab the snake without being bitten.

  ALSO IN TIME
COVER: Enough Is Enough
After a deadly and mysterious bomb attack at Jakarta's stock exchange, citizens are desperate for President Wahid to take decisive action to restore stability
Sick Man of Asia: Just how ill is Suharto?
Interview: The Defense Minister sees conspiracies
Outside Help: Can the world do anything to bring peace?

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TIME at the Olympics: Sydney 2000
TIMEasia, TIMEeurope, TIMEpacific and TIME.com bring you our take on the first Olympics of the new millennium

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The circumstantial evidence is plentiful. In July, just hours after Tommy Suharto was questioned in the Attorney General's office over corruption allegations, a bomb went off in the building. On Aug. 31, the night before Suharto was first scheduled to appear in court on charges of embezzling $570 million of state funds, a bomb went off in a bus parked outside the makeshift courtroom set up in the Department of Agriculture where the trial was set to begin. When Suharto failed to appear in court the following day on grounds of ill health, the judge demanded the prosecutor and Suharto's lawyers bring in a team of doctors to testify and ordered the court to reconvene Sept. 14. Like clockwork, the stock exchange bomb went off on the eve of the new court date. "There is a perception that any time the government raises the pressure on Suharto or any of his cronies, these things happen," says Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, who is managing the government's case against the 79-year-old former President.

Tommy—whose full name is Hutomo Mandala Putra—is widely regarded as Suharto's favorite child, but also the one most disliked by Indonesians because of how he flaunts his wealth. Now 38 and married with a son of his own, he struggled through school. But he developed an early love of cars, and raced competitively in Indonesia and abroad. Tommy headed the Humpuss group of companies, which had investments in the domestic Sempati airline, oil and gas exploration, the Lamborghini sports-car manufacturer and the failed project to build "Timor" cars in Indonesia. Tommy also controlled the clove monopoly that supplied the country's fragrant kretek cigarettes. The target of several corruption investigations since his father fell from power in 1998, Tommy has seen his business interests suffer, and his Humpuss group is now the third biggest debtor to the Indonesia Bank Restructuring Agency, owing about $655 million. Despite all of this, Wahid's call for his arrest astonished many Indonesians, who have grown accustomed to thinking that the Suharto family could operate above the law.

Wahid is desperate. With foreign investor confidence at an all-time low and no economic relief in sight, concern is mounting throughout Asia about Indonesia's very survival. Separatist and ethnic conflicts are breaking out across the archipelago, pulling the country down into a self-destructive vortex. As tensions increase, nationalist hackles are also rising, and politicians are quick to interpret any action by the international community as interference in the country's sovereignty. On Friday representatives for Indonesia and the U.N. transitional administration in East Timor signed an agreement to form a committee to secure the border between East and West Timor, and to cooperate on the repatriation of refugees. But no deadline was given for solving the refugee problem. In Manila visiting U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen called on Indonesia to take "strong action" to control the militias in West Timor. But many military analysts believe the violence in West Timor was provoked by elements in the armed forces who hope to block the government's attempts to put senior officers on trial for last year's human rights abuses in East Timor.

Meanwhile despite an official ceasefire in the province of Aceh, killings and disappearances continue in the oil-rich area. On Friday provincial governor Ramli Ridwan said that 444 people had been killed and an additional 96 had disappeared in Aceh in the past year. Two weeks ago the body of Jaffar Siddiq Hamzah, a U.S.-based anti-Jakarta activist who had been visiting Aceh, was found in a ravine with four other bodies—police say they don't know who was responsible for his abduction and killing. With the growing sense of insecurity, the military is maneuvering to strengthen its hold on power. "Time bombs left over from the past are now going off," says Indria Samego, a military analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. "If the civilians don't get the situation under control we could possibly see a military takeover."

Wahid's presidency started on an upbeat note last October. The jocular Muslim cleric, who beat out rival Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia's first democratic presidential election in 44 years (she became his Vice President), promised democratic reforms, the removal of the military from politics and sincere efforts to battle corruption. Despite good intentions, his government has failed to make much progress. Wahid soon took to murmuring about covert maneuverings directed at undermining his rule. Initially such talk was dismissed as mere conspiracy theories, aimed at disguising Wahid's own shortcomings in government. But with mounting disturbances culminating in last week's bombing in Jakarta, the theories seemed to be proving true. "The forces of [Suharto's] New Order are still too strong," says legislator Hatta Rajasa, secretary general of the Islamic-based National Mandate Party led by opposition leader Amien Rais. "They are determined to see a return to the past. They are trying to corner Gus Dur."

Indonesia is a two-tier country, split between an Elite strata of rich businessmen, generals and politicians, and a mass of orang kecil, which literally translates as "small people." The Elite believe they are naturally entitled to their chauffeur-driven, air-conditioned, dollar-denominated privileges in this hierarchical society. They expect the "small people" to stay in their place, out of sight in basement parking lots or servants' quarters, until needed. Wahid threatened to spoil the arrangement with his policy of reform. His pursuit of Suharto for embezzlement became a litmus test, a duel of strength between those who were getting fat on the status quo and those who genuinely felt Indonesia needed to change. The Elite has everything to lose, and the bombings suggest they aren't ready to cede anything. "There are people here who are willing to undertake a scorched earth policy to protect their vested interests," says Arian Ardie, an international business consultant and adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce. "They are prepared to bring the entire economy down."

The only force in society that can guarantee stability is the military. To take on the old order Wahid needs the army's support, and he may have to make a pact with the devil. Knowing that Wahid cannot take on Suharto on his own, the military would be able to drive a hard bargain in exchange for its backing. This could involve backtracking on the promise to reduce the army's influence in politics. "The sad truth about this country is that we're stuck with a military that is too strong," says Kusnanto Anggoro, a military analyst at Jakarta's Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Eventually we will need a leader with authority to deal with it. Gus Dur has the legitimacy to lead, but not the authority." In the end, Anggoro says, Wahid "will have to cut deals with the military to be able to run this country peacefully."

By week's end the rupiah had dipped to 8,675 to the dollar, down 17% since the beginning of the year, and the stock exchange, which was at its lowest level this year even before the bombing, remained closed. The country's future seemed as black as the basement car park, where twisted remains of cars had been ripped open like sardine cans and severed wires hung from the roof like macabre jungle vines. As the drivers and others caught in the explosion recuperated in public wards at the Pertamina hospital, Suharto and his son Tommy continued to hold fort in their spacious, well-guarded residences on Jalan Cendana. Wahid has said he is serious about stopping the violence, but Indonesians are wary of further bombings. Fears center on two events—the possible arrest of Tommy Suharto and the next session of his father's trial, now set for Sept. 28. Presiding Judge Lalu Mariyun has ordered Suharto's lawyers to present their client in court on that day. But the aged former dictator, and the cronies he fostered, have shown no signs of giving up peacefully.

With reporting by Zamira Loebis and Jason Tedjasukmana/Jakarta

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