151, March 1999

Mar 1999

Bulletin no. 151


1. East Timor: Indonesia's retreat from East Timor

2. Social Unrest: Huge death toll in Maluku riots

3. Aceh: Army shoots scores of people in Aceh [text unavailable]

4. Aceh: Army brutality reigns supreme in Aceh [text unavailable]

5. Aceh: 'You'd better come along with us...' [text unavailable]

6. Armed Forces: Major reshuffle in ABRI [text unavailable]

7. Armed Forces: Trial of Kopassus abductors a farce [text unavailable]

8. Human Rights: Indicting Suharto

9. UK-Indonesia Ties: Governments shamed by TV programmes [text unavailable]

10. West Papua: Dialogue in West Papua faces obstruction

1. Indonesia's retreat from East Timor

The announcement by the Indonesian government that it is prepared to pull out of East Timor came like a thunderbolt, although close observers had seen signs that change might be in the air. The economic meltdown and the worsening political crisis have forced Jakarta to re-assess its East Timor policy. While independence now seems closer, a backlash by pro-integration para-military forces is spreading death and terror in East Timor which means that it’s too early yet to celebrate.

The announcement came on 27 January, following a cabinet meeting. Information minister Yunus Yosfiah, accompanied by foreign minister Ali Alatas, announced that a meeting of the politics and security ministers chaired by the president, B.J. Habibie, had decided that if the East Timorese people were not prepared to accept Indonesia’s offer of wide-ranging autonomy, the government would ask the meeting of the People’s Consultative Assembly, the MPR, later this year to ‘let East Timor go’.

People in East Timor received the news with cautious optimism and a heavy dose of scepticism as 23 years of hardship and misery have taught them to be suspicious of any good news emanating from Jakarta.

It is ironic that it fell to retired general Yunus Yosfiah to make the announcement. He served for many years as a combat soldier in East Timor, better informed than most about the army’s failure to impose Indonesian rule. As military commander, he tried without success for many years to implement a ‘hearts and minds’ policy. He is also deeply implicated in the murder of five TV journalists in Balibo in October 1975, who were killed by a unit under his command. But as the country’s first post-Suharto minister of information it also fell to him to usher in an era of press freedom, thanks to which the Indonesian press gave extensive coverage to the surprise announcement and its implications. East Timor was on all the front pages for days with photos of the East Timorese leader, Xanana Gusmao, receiving distinguished visitors in Cipinang Prison. Photos of Xanana, Bishop Ximenes Belo and even the much maligned José Ramos-Horta have graced the covers of most political magazines and tabloids.

Xanana place under ‘house arrest’

At the same time, the government took another important step forward in deciding to move Xanana Gusmao from Cipinang Prison, where he is still serving a 20-year sentence, to a private house. Since the authorities claim that Indonesian law does not recognise the status of house arrest, his new residence was declared to be an extension of the prison where he would be under 24-hour guard by the security forces.

But after refusing for years to countenance his release on the grounds that he was a ‘criminal’, it was now made clear that his move from prison had been made in response to persistent international pressure, above all from the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and to enable him to play an active part in consultations regarding a peaceful solution of the East Timor question. According to Justice Minister Muladi, the move would give him far greater freedom to contact people and stay in touch with developments As the undisputed leader of the Timorese resistance, Xanana will now be able to take a much more direct part in negotiations with Indonesia, with the different strands of opinion in East Timorese society and with the UN and other key international agencies involved in the process.

Speaking at a press conference in Cipinang shortly before the transfer, Xanana welcomed the change in the Indonesian Government’s policy, praised President Habibie for his courage and stressed the fact that the Indonesian government had for the first time ever recognised Timor’s right to self determination .

Xanana’s transfer from prison was a major international news event. Within hours of his move, Xanana was receiving a stream of visitors to discuss ways to take the issue forward and in particular to end the violence in East Timor and seek reconciliation. His new ‘prison’ is now such a hive of activity that it is as if the East Timorese resistance has opened a de facto office in the heart of enemy territory.

The new policy and the UN

The decision in Jakarta came in the midst of continuing negotiations between Indonesia and Portugal under the auspices of the UN secretary-general. These talks revolve around an Indonesian proposal for wide-ranging autonomy hedged by the condition that once this is accepted, the international community will accept East Timor’s integration into Indonesia. This has been countered by Portugal and the CNRT who insist that, if accepted, autonomy must be a transitional stage, leading ultimately to a referendum.

The 27 January announcement fudged the question of how the East Timorese will be assessed as having accepted or rejected autonomy and Alatas continues to insist that there can be no referendum. It has been suggested by some people in the government that the matter could be resolved at the forthcoming general elections, that the elected representatives from East Timor will convey their views to the MPR when it meets in November. If they say no to autonomy, the MPR will let East Timor go.

But this scenario completely overlooks the fact that the decision on East Timor’s future rests with the UN, not with Indonesia’s MPR. Both Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his special envoy, Jamsheed Marker, have publicly acknowledged that the majority of the people of East Timor favour independence. The question is, to find a mechanism to record this as an indisputable fact.

The response of UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to this conundrum was to call an immediate meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers, to seek clarifications from Jakarta about how it intended to proceed. A proposal from Portugal for a UN-supervised consultation of East Timorese opinion to be held by August this year was flatly rejected by Alatas. By declaring that this consultation was a referendum ‘in all but name’, the Portuguese foreign minister appears to have stiffened Alatas’ rejection, and the foreign ministers departed from New York with the matter unresolved. Diplomatic sources now believe that it will be up to the UN to work out a form of consultation that is valid internationally and acceptable to Jakarta as being not remotely like a referendum. Perhaps when the foreign ministers meet again in March, a solution will be found.

Divisions within the elite

The policy change was not unanimously welcomed, even within the government. The key minister in charge of the issue for more than ten years, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas could hardly conceal his embarrassment as he faced the press with Yunus Yosfiah on 27 January. It later became clear that he had hardly been consulted about the shift. Another senior minister, retired General Feisal Tandjung, the Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs, was also not pleased with the change. But key ministers including Minister of Defence General Wiranto and economic czar Ginandjar Kartasasmita expressed full support. For Ginandjar, this could pave the way for desperately needed foreign economic assistance, without which the Indonesian economy will never recover. For Wiranto, it meant one problem less for his heavily-stretched forces, facing riots and unrest on an unprecedented scale.

For many years Alatas has described East Timor as 'a pebble in the shoe'. This is of course an understatement because Indonesian embassies around the world have had their work cut out trying to defend the indefensible position of justifying the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Even before the downfall of Suharto, it was clear that senior diplomats were becoming ever more reluctant to defend the annexation of East Timor against challenges in virtually every international forum.

At the same time, many Indonesian intellectuals started to challenge Indonesian colonialism in East Timor whether on grounds of principle or because of the high cost of the policy in economic as well as diplomatic terms..

Added to all this is the fact that public opinion in Indonesia has become more critical, as the true facts about East Timor have begun to emerge. The birth in the past year of two Indonesian solidarity groups with East Timor has helped popularise the issue. Their books, seminars and exhibitions have helped transform East Timor from being taboo to becoming a matter of great public interest.

Habibie turns the tables

But ultimately, it was Habibie, egged on by his senior political adviser Dewi Fortuna Anwar, who took the plunge. For a president who has proven incapable of resolving the mounting problems which he inherited from Suharto, here was one area in which he proved decisive. This decision may be the one that will earn him a place of honour in the history books, alongside people like P.W. Botha who abandoned apartheid.

It was the more liberal wing in ICMI, the Muslim Intellectuals Organisation which Habibie chaired from the outset until he became president, that played the crucial role in the policy switch. For some time Dewi Fortuna, who some see as the country’s real foreign minister, has publicly expressed criticism of the annexation of East Timor. She has become exasperated with the repeated challenges she has had to face at international conferences, forcing her to defend a policy she did not support.

Now she makes no secret of her mistrust of ABRI. Referring to the need to disarm para-militaries (see below), she said the job should be borne by the international community. ‘With its morale currently as a low ebb, Indonesia’s 500,000 strong military cannot be relied on to do the job because it is not regarded as neutral.’ [International Herald Tribune, 17 February]

But a glance at Habibie’s own political career shows that East Timor has played no role in his advance from an aerospace engineer in Germany to the supremo of Indonesia’s military-industrial complex, nor indeed in his personal and family fortunes. He freely admits that it was strong international pressure that persuaded him to reverse Jakarta’s inflexible position on East Timor. First and foremost, it was the shock decision in January by the Australian government to acknowledge, after having given de jure recognition to Indonesia’s annexation, that East Timor did have the right to an act of self-determination, that convinced Habibie that it was time for a change. As he himself made clear, Prime Minister John Howard’s letter informing him of the switch was the final straw.

All of Habibie’s utterances on the question assume that the East Timorese will reject autonomy, paving the way for Indonesia to leave. He makes no secret of the fact that he sees East Timor as a ‘burden’ on the Indonesian economy and the quicker Jakarta is rid of it, the better.

And what about ABRI?

But the Habibie initiative could never have been taken without the backing of the top ABRI generals. It was ABRI that invaded East Timor on Suharto’s orders and East Timor has been an ABRI project ever since.

After Wiranto had given his blessing following the first announcement, Major General Syamsul Ma'arif, the armed forces spokesperson, declared on 2 February that ABRI was ‘ready to leave East Timor. If the people want ABRI to leave East Timor,’ he said, ‘it will do so.’ He even claimed that ABRI did not have its own agenda in East Timor. Later that day, commander-in-chief General Wiranto said that Indonesian troops would gradually be withdrawn from East Timor, while admitting frankly that the troop deployment had increased in the past few months in order, he claimed, to cope with the rising level of activity by pro-independence groups. It must be said that there is no evidence of this.

With the exception of Johnny Lumintang who is now Deputy Chief of Staff of the army, none of the generals holding key positions in Cilangkap, ABRI head-quarters, has served for any length of time in East Timor. Until recently, the career prospects of army officers have been largely determined by a tour of combat duty in East Timor but this is no longer true.

However, a number of retired generals have made no secret of their anger with Cilangkap. The most outspoken opinion was voiced by retired Colonel Gatot Purwanto who was chief intelligence officer in East Timor at the time of the Santa Cruz massacre. He bitterly accused Wiranto of being an officer ‘who has never seen service in Timor, who has spent too much time carrying other people’s briefcases and who knows nothing about the sufferings of the ordinary soldier’.

It is widely acknowledged that 20,000 soldiers have lost their lives in East Timor. In the first 10 years alone, the army is thought to have lost 15,000 men. Leaving East Timor was seen by many hardliners as a betrayal of these sacrifices. But with its backs to the wall on many fronts, ABRI was hardly in a position to stand out against a policy that accepted the reality of Indonesia's hard-pressed economic and political situation on the world arena.

The domino theory

It has long been argued that Indonesia will never allow East Timor to go independent for fear of the repercussions in other parts of the country like West Papua and Aceh. But it now appears that the present ABRI leadership believes that by disentangling itself from East Timor, it will be in a better possible to devote its hard-pressed resources to coping with these other problems. People no longer accept ABRI’s dominant role in society, nor are the authorities able to cope with the many social eruptions. The disturbances in Aceh, Ambon and parts of Java have exposed ABRI’s weaknesses. The demand for wide-ranging autonomy or federalism is growing in many of the country’s far-flung regions.

It may have been the domino theory that persuaded Megawati Sukarnoputri, chair of the PDI-Perjuangan, to come out forcefully against allowing East Timor to go independent. She argued that the present government is a transitional government and has no authority to take such a decision. She also refuted Habibie’s view that East Timor is a ‘burden’, a ‘drain on the nation’s resources’. Speaking to a huge rally of the party faithful on 14 February, she declared that the decision to integrate East Timor into the Republic was irreversible. Since she is a front runner to become Indonesia’s next president, her position is a setback for East Timor.

The other key opposition leaders, notably Abdurrachman Wahid who leads the Nahdlatul Ulama and Amien Rais whose party enjoys the backing of the Muhammadiyah and who are both likely to win significant support in the Indonesian elections in June, have come out in support of a referendum in East Timor.

Public support for independence grows

For several years East Timorese resistance leaders have insisted that independence was just a matter of time. José Ramos-Horta even said that it would happen before the millennium. What was once seen as wild optimism now seems to be true.

Following the downfall of Suharto, the student movement in Timor took advantage of the power vacuum in Jakarta and ABRI’s setbacks to organise mass rallies in the cities and the countryside. The main demands of their meetings and rallies were a referendum and the sacking of Governor Abilio Osorio Soares, a close political and business associate of the Suharto clique.

It quickly became clear that the vast majority of Timorese were preparing themselves for an independent East Timor and that ABRI was fighting a losing battle. Even though fresh troops have been brought in, morale is at rock-bottom. It is now estimated that the number of troops in East Timor is approaching 21,000. East Timor used to be the place for young officers to gain quick promotion and fat bonuses but those days are gone. The occupying army has been unable to stem the tide of mass mobilisation.

Another change has been the formation of Timorese political parties, though they are officially still banned. The five pre-1975 Timorese political parties have been re-established while the two main parties, Fretilin and UDT have opened offices in Dili, as has the CNRT, the Council of Timorese Resistance, the umbrella for pro-independence groups. There are other political structures as well: GRPRTT, a loose coalition of prominent Timorese who used to work within the Indonesian administration, is one. The most striking of all is the student federation Dewan Solidaritas Mahasiswa Pemuda dan Pelajar Timor Timur which has became the rallying point for the majority of the students and has succeeded in bringing out tens of thousands of people on the streets.

Others are Forsarepetil, the organisation of pro-referendum Timorese academics and government employees, the youth organisation Ojetil, the women’s organisation OMT, and several radical political parties, PST, APKT and PRD.

Changes also seem to be afoot on the military front. Late last year, Colonel Tono Suratman the present military commander of East Timor told the visiting Canadian ambassador that he was ready to start negotiations with Falintil, the armed wing of the resistance. And he actually called it by its proper name, not the ‘GPK’ the acronym which stands for ‘wild disruptor gangs’.

The para-military threat

While most of the talk in Jakarta is about autonomy and independence, the military situation in East Timor presents a very different picture. People in Jakarta like Alatas who oppose a referendum argue that this would inevitably lead to civil war. What is happening on the ground in many parts Timor suggests that well-armed gangs are determined to make this prophesy a reality.

The policy change in Jakarta threw the pro-integrasi groups in Timor into a panic. They felt betrayed by the government in Jakarta. There have always been Timorese who side with the occupiers. The early pro-integrasi groups within the UDT and Apodeti were driven into the Indonesian embrace because of their conflict with Fretilin. Over the years the parties have splintered, with some members shocked by the brutalities of the colonising power. Today, most have joined the pro-referendum forces. The latest pro-integrasi groups consist mainly of para-military units, which are armed and co-ordinated by local military commands. Their leaders are people who have collaborated with military intelligence run by the notorious Kopassus commandos or have served in the Indonesian civil administration.

Indonesian army documents that were leaked abroad [see TAPOL Bulletin No 149/150] reveal that 12 para-military units are under the Dili military command, Korem 164. They are locally based and come under the direction of the sub-district military commands.

The twelve teams listed in the documents are:




Team Saka



Team Alfa



Team Makikit



Team Halilintar



Team Railakan



Team Ainaro



Team Suai



Team Same



Team Sakunar



Team Morok



Team Liquisa





[see also TAPOL Occasional Reports No. 26, EAST TIMOR, An Analysis of Indonesian Army Documents, October 1998.]

But there are other more informal para-military units which are not listed in the Korem 164 documents, notably the Dili-based Gadapaksi, and the Ainaro-based Mahidin, as well as others which are apparently nameless. These informal groups are particularly vicious and militaristic, as their names suggest. Mahidin stands for Mati atau Hidup Integrasi dengan Indonesia which means ‘Life or Death for Integration with Indonesia’ while Gadapaksi stands for Garda Penegak Integrasi or ‘Guards to Uphold Integration‘. Gadapaksi was set up several years ago to strike out against the clandestine movement in Dili. Its godfather was Lt. General Prabowo, Suharto’s son-in-law, one of the most notorious Kopassus officers. He is now living in exile in Jordan but his network in East Timor still exists, is apparently well funded and enjoys the support of people like Governor Abilio Osorio Soares.

Beachhead against guerrillas

The para-military units under Korem 164 function as a buffer between the Falintil guerrillas and the ABRI territorial units. ABRI gives them weapons and uses them on the front line in remote hamlets which are close to guerrilla strongholds. The army’s strategy of ‘letting Timorese fight Timorese’ goes back a long time but some analysts believe that using East Timorese as the beachhead against the guerrillas is a sign of defeat and of the low morale of Indonesian soldiers. According to the military documents, the men killed in combat in Baucau, Viqueque, Atabae and Liquisa were para-militaries.

In the past two months, ABRI has stepped up its recruitment drive for the army and for civilian guards called Wanra (Perlawanan Rakyat) or People’s Resistance and has been busy recruiting West Timorese into the army. In February, ABRI said that a thousand new Wanra recruits had been enlisted. Described as being part of a nation-wide programme to provide extra security, they will be spread out across the 13 districts of Timor and are already undergoing military training. They will be inaugurated on 1 May and receive a monthly allowance of Rp 250,000.

Some of the more notorious para-military leaders such as Basilio Araujo of Gadapaksi, Edmundo da Silva of Alfa, Lafaek of Makikit, Cancio Carvalho of Mahidin and Joao Tavares of Halilintar are frequently quoted in the press. Their language is very belligerent and is always laced with threats of a civil war.

Arming the para-military

The para-military threat is not new to East Timor. Before they emerged, there were the ninjas or hooded killers, who roamed the towns terrorising the people.

Using Timorese to fight Timorese was the idea behind the formation of two special battalions, 744 and 745 consisting only of Timorese soldiers under Indonesian officers. But many members defected to the jungle with their weapons or showed a reluctance to fight the guerrillas. As a result, Timorese now account for less than half the men in the two battalions. This is the context in which the occupation forces have now placed their hopes in a new and highly belligerent force.

While it is know that the para-militaries are recruited either by the military commands or by trustworthy Timorese collaborators, on the crucial question of how they obtain their weapons, the situation is less straightforward. Senior officers have contradicted each other. One ABRI spokesperson in Jakarta told the BBC that weapons were given to them ‘on loan’ and returned after the ‘job’ has been accomplished, but other generals have denied that they are being armed by ABRI. The para-military leaders openly boast about getting their weapons from the local commands and keeping them.

As for the Wanra units, the Wiranto version is that their task is to assist the regular troops in upholding law and order. As an example, he mentioned Alas [see TAPOL Bulletin, No 149/150] where 13 people were held hostage by the guerrillas, five soldiers were killed and their weapons captured. But human rights activists in Dili say that it is beyond doubt that the military and para-military were the ones who caused a bloodbath in the area.

Bishop Belo and Manuel Carrascalao who heads the GRPRTT have strongly criticised the arming of the militias and reject the claim that this is to counter operations by the guerrillas. Following a vicious attack on the village of Galita in January when at least four civilians were shot dead by members of Mahidin and thousands of people fled the area to take refuge at a church in Suai, Bishop Belo said: "In the fifteen years I have been here, I’ve never heard of Fretilin raiding a village and causing 6,000 to flee. Yet, the moment the Wanra are formed, 6,000 people were forced to flee.’

It is not easy to assess the number of weapons in circulation among the para-militaries. Members of Mahidin have bragged about 10,000 firearms being handed out across the country but according to Clementino dos Reis Amaral of Komnas Ham, the National Human Rights Commission, and Manuel Carrascalao, it is much less than this. From past experience, ABRI might think hard before handing out so many weapons, fearing that they could end up in the hands of the guerrillas. Ten thousand is probably far too high, but there are no doubt enough in circulation to make the situation in East Timor highly explosive.

If Jakarta is really serious about its new policy, Habibie and Wiranto will have respond to demands for the disarming and disbandment of the para-militaries. This is the litmus test for Jakarta’s switch of policy. The international community must also assert its authority by sending independent monitors to East Timor to oversee the dismantling of this dangerous force and safeguard the lives of the people of East Timor.

Xanana’s role in a volatile situation

Most Timorese believe that independence is just a matter of time. But they have seen so many developments on the international arena - the outrage after the Santa Cruz massacre, the Nobel Peace Prizes for Bishop Belo and Ramos-Horta, visits from many UN officials - yet things inside East Timor have not changed. In such circumstances, they can be forgiven for losing patience. This was the message conveyed in Xanana Gusmao’s lengthy New Year's message - a plea for more patience and for people to keep faith in the face of slow but steady developments.

Quite remarkably, in the weeks following the policy shift in Jakarta, there were no mass rallies in Dili even though many atrocities were being committed by the paras in several parts of the country. This was in response to fears by the resistance leaders that rallies could be used by provocateurs to create chaos. On 16 February however, 150,000 people went out onto the streets to mourn peacefully for the death of Benedito de Jesus Pires who was killed by the authorities two days earlier. The march through the capital was carefully supervised by hundreds of stewards from the student movement.

Far away in Jakarta, Xanana now works day and night to bring together all the rival groups. Before he left Cipinang Prison, he had an important meeting with NU leader, Gus Dur who asked for - and received - the assurance that Xanana would do all in his power to safeguard the security of the vast number of Indonesian migrants now living and working in East Timor. Gus Dur was the first top-level opposition leader to visit Xanana; others could soon follow.

Within days of his release into ‘house arrest’, he had met many East Timorese of various political persuasions including representatives of the CNRT office in Dili, the present governor Abilio Osario Soares, and the former president’s special ambassador for East Timor affairs, Lopez da Cruz. Just before he left Cipinang Prison, he met the former governor, Mario Carrascalao and they agreed to set up a Commission of Reconciliation, headed by Mario. There is talk of this Commission convening its first meeting in Jakarta, which would be attended by Xanana.

On 4 March, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will visit Jakarta and is bound to meet Xanana. On 10 March, the Indonesian and Portuguese foreign ministers will meet again in New York to thrash out a mutually-acceptable way of consulting the East Timorese on autonomy or independence. As the speed of developments gathers pace, there are real hopes that the 23-year long struggle of the courageous people of East Timor is nearing its fruition.

UK and others pledge peace-keepers

The British Government will send troops and financial assistance for a UN peace-keeping force in Timor after Indonesia’s withdrawal. The decision was conveyed to Xanana Gusmao in a letter from Minister of State Derek Fatchett. Similar pledges have been made by Nordic countries, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Welcoming the British pledge, Jose Ramos-Horta praised Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and International Development Secretary Clare Short who were ‘sensitive towards East Timor and very aware that they have to make up for Britain’s arms sales to Indonesia’. [The Independent, 20 February] In addition to the countries mentioned here, the Irish Government has also pledged support.

A senior official of the International Red Cross who visited Timor said the agency would try to calm the situation down and be ready to act fast in the case of a humanitarian disaster because of the fear and anxiety in the territory. The agency is seeking permission from the armed forces commander to enlarge its mission in Timor. [AFP, 19 February]

Attention should also be given to various UN agencies sending teams to Timor to help alleviate problems by replacing Indonesian personnel such as doctors. A UN official is shortly to take up a special post in Jakarta, with unlimited access to Timor.

2. Huge death toll in Maluku riots

In January, serious riots flared up in Maluku, a group of islands stretching from the Philippines in the north to Australia in the south. This is the worst outbreak of violence since the fall of Suharto last May. It has caused social upheaval and hundreds of casualties with 50,000 people seeking refuge in mosques, churches and police barracks. Clashes are still continuing, with no end in sight.

Most of the conflict occurred in central Maluku, on one of the main islands, the densely populated Ambon, but also on the smaller islands of Haruku and Sanana. The other main island Seram was also affected. The wave of violence started on 15 January on the island of Dobo in south-east Maluku where eight people were killed in riots.

The main clashes occurred in Ambon city, the capital of Ambon. They started on 19 January, coinciding with Idul Fitri, the festival that ends the Muslim fasting month.

Maluku has until now been regarded as a region of exemplary ethnic and religious harmony. Just a few weeks earlier, President Habibie had pointed to Maluku as a shining example of harmony. The Maluku archipelago consists of 1,027 islands with a population of 2.08 million. The majority, according to 1997 figures, are Muslims (59.01 per cent) with Protestants accounting for 35.29 per cent and Catholics for 5.19 per cent.

There has been an influx of people from other parts of Indonesia, adding to the ethnic diversity, especially people from the island of Buton and many Buginese traders, mostly of the Muslim faith. The civil administration consists of people from all parts of Indonesia.

War-like situation in Ambon

The initial clash in Ambon started with a quarrel between a minibus driver from Mardika, a Christian neighbourhood of Ambon, and a passenger from Batumerah, a Muslim district. The conflict quickly turned into a full-scale communal conflict; within hours, the city was in flames.

This first wave of rioting lasted for six days and the city took on the appearance of a battle-ground. People evacuated heir homes and entire neighbourhoods went up in smoke. At least one hundred people were killed in less than a week while hundreds more were severely injured. Some three hundred people are reported missing.

A local observer estimated that at least three thousand houses were gutted, while 31 churches and mosques, 5 markets, 4 shopping centres and more than 1,000 shops and kiosks were destroyed. A number of government buildings, hotels, schools and one cinema also went up in flames. Some 130 cars, 100 motor cycles and 430 pedicabs were destroyed.

At least 50,000 people took refuge in public buildings, churches, mosques and police or military barracks. The main Protestant church Maranatha and the main mosque Al Fatah were inundated with thousands of terrified families who had lost all their belongings. An initial estimate of the material damage is 500 billion rupiah (US$ 55 million)

For several days the airport of Ambon was closed. Foreigners were evacuated by military planes to Darwin, Australia and Ujung Pandang in Sulawesi. The Governor of Maluku Saleh Latuconsina announced a curfew and the military issued a shoot-on-sight order for anyone resisting the authorities. Troops were brought in from many parts of Indonesia, including police units from East Timor. ABRI commander-in-chief General Wiranto flew to Ambon to monitor the situation.

Social disintegration

Observers warn that similar unrest could happen anywhere in Indonesia. The source of the trouble is a highly combustible mix of severe economic problems affecting people everywhere, in the wake of the collapse of a 32-year totalitarian regime which quelled all fundamental freedoms. Normal political life was prohibited and civil society was utterly destroyed. As a result, democratic traditions were eroded, to be replaced by authoritarian patron-client relations.

According to Professor Loekman Soetrisno of the Gadjah Mada University, the key to the country's social problems is chronic poverty and a concentration of hard-line religious sentiment. Unrest often springs from long-held animosities between rival religious and ethnic groups. This, he said, could lead to clashes erupting almost without warning. Loekman listed a number of places in the archipelago which he described as potential flash points.

Wiranto and the opposition

On the fourth day of the riots, General Wiranto arrived in Ambon together with a party of generals but it soon became obvious that the security forces were unable to control the situation and Wiranto flew back to Jakarta without achieving anything, not even meeting the different local religious leaders. All the four-star general could do was hand over Rp500 million to the local government for relief. In desperation, General Wiranto held an emergency meeting with the Ciganjur Four.

The Ciganjur Four, named after the place where Gus Dur, a Muslim leader, lives, consists of the four top political leaders outside the system. Amien Rais, Megawati and Abdurrachman Wahid, or Gus Dur as he is known, represent the main political opposition groups, while the Sultan of Yogyakarta is revered by many people in Central Java.

Wiranto's meeting with the four opposition leaders conveys a number of political messages. It was highly significant that the commander-in-chief felt the need to confer with the opposition about the grave situation in Ambon, revealing the weakness of the Habibie government and the inability of ABRI to restore peace and order in Ambon. It was patently obvious that appeals for calm from Habibie had gone totally unheeded in Maluku.

The two key post-Suharto players, President Habibie and ABRI chief General Wiranto, are still widely seen as Suharto stalwarts, greatly affecting their legitimacy and credibility. Wiranto's high-profile approach to leading non-military leaders was also an effort to cast aside his image as a Suharto protege. It has to be said however that the meeting with the Cigajur Four had little effect on events in Maluku.

New waves of violence

After the first wave of riots, the situation in Ambon remained volatile while violent events outside the capital kept the situation on the boil in several islands. A few thousand Buginese left Ambon by ship and it is unclear whether they will return to Ambon.

On 20 January a nasty incident occurred in the tiny village of Telagakodok and the nearby Benteng Karang hamlet, 30 km north of Ambon city. These two predominantly Christian centres of population were wiped out. The attackers killed twelve people and left seven injured, while more than one thousand inhabitants fled their homes. Most are migrants from south-east Maluku and the island of Flores.

Then in February more violence erupted in Kairatu, a small village on Seram, the island which is seen by many locals as the main island. According to official reports, ten people died.

On 14 February, another violent clash occurred, this time on the island of Haruku which is very close to the island of Ambon. There was a serious clash between the two communities, Muslim and Christian, which resulted in thirteen deaths and forty-three seriously injured. According to press reports, most of the victims died from gunshot wounds which may be because the army and the police were operating their shoot-on-sight command. The trigger for this violence was the torching a day earlier of the house of a Christian family.


Analysts are puzzled as to why a relatively harmonious society could explode so violently. 135 people have been arrested in Ambon alone and are undergoing intensive questioning. At least half are likely to go on trial. Many were identified as members of the notorious organisation Pemuda Pancasila (PP), which can best be described as the biggest group of 'organised crime', and which enjoys the political protection of the Suharto family. After Suharto's downfall, this group has repeatedly been mentioned as the main provider of provocateurs in the many cases of looting and riots. The PP is chaired by a notorious individual, Yorrys Raweyaj, a frequent visitor to the Suharto residence, who has won himself a place in Indonesia's rogues' gallery, symbolising the bleak political climate in post-Suharto Indonesia. Many analysts believe that Cendana (the Suharto residence) finances the disruptive operations of Yorrys and his hirelings but nobody has yet come up with conclusive evidence.

As for the Maluku riots, both General Wiranto and Maluku police chief Colonel Karyono have suggested that they were instigated by provocateurs. It is common knowledge that provocateurs have played a key role in fanning riots in other places like Banyuwangi, Ketapang and Krawang. General Wiranto is said to have been informed about the role of PP provocateurs.

According to reports in the Indonesian press, 862 preman (political gangsters) arrived in Ambon shortly before the riots, which would suggest that provocation has played a major part in the on-going Maluku tragedy. The activities of the provocateurs appear to follow a pattern which has so far proven to be very effective. They create an incident which could be anything from beating up someone in the street to burning a house in a village. Information is then quickly disseminated to the affected community and hugely inflated on the way so as to have the greatest possible impact.

During a visit to Ambon by two observers from Komnas Ham, the National Human Rights Commission, to Ambon, there were no fewer that four provocations. Two involved minibus passengers being beating up by the driver and the other two involved office workers being attacked with machetes by unidentified persons. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this was a show of force, to scare off the observers, making it impossible for them to continue with their mission.

Horizontal and vertical conflicts

In today's complex political climate in Indonesia, both horizontal and vertical conflicts have emerged. This is to be expected after a long period of an authoritarian dictatorship. The political conflict in Aceh, reported elsewhere in this issue, is primarily vertical. Acehnese society is relatively homogenous and is held together by a deep sense of dissatisfaction with Jakarta, which varies in strength among different sections of society but the object of people's discontent is the same. Under such circumstances, it is difficult for military intelligence or provocateurs to destabilise Acehnese community. The only way to create terror is by sending in professional killers.

The situation in Maluku is more vulnerable and fragile. The community in places like Ambon is very heterogeneous and provocateurs can reap a grim harvest. This kind of horizontal conflict is very damaging and will have a negative impact on efforts to build a healthy civil society there for many years to come.

Placed in the context of the evil intentions emanating from the Suharto clique to destabilise the situation in Indonesia, the prospects for Indonesia in the coming difficult months as the June elections ap proach are not good.

8. Indicting Suharto

The proceedings against General Pinochet of Chile for crimes committed while he was head of state have focused world attention on the need to bring dictators to justice. A campaign is developing to have Suharto indicted for the crimes against humanity perpetrated by his New Order regime.

It is an affront to justice that the former dictator has been allowed to slip into comfortable retirement without being held responsible for the many atrocities committed during his 32-year despotic rule. Although there have been persistent calls for him to be tried for corruption and other economic crimes, that appears unlikely to happen while the present power holders remain in position.

The trial of Suharto and other senior or retired armed forces officers for crimes against humanity is now essential. (Other international criminal charges, such as genocide and war crimes are also possible, but may be technically more difficult to prosecute.)

A trial should serve several purposes. It should satisfy the need for punishment, deterrence and belated justice for the many victims and help heal the wounds inflicted by 32 years of brutal repression. It should also contribute to the Indonesian people's understanding of their recent past and the ideologies and power structures which lay behind the massive violations of human rights committed by the Suharto regime. This understanding is a pre-requisite to the building of a democratic future based on justice and fundamental human rights.

Growing demands for indictment

The international focus on the case against Pinochet has led several lawyers and commentators in Indonesia to call for Suharto's indictment. On 15 January, five Indonesian human rights organisations petitioned the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) to conduct a comprehensive investigation into his crimes. This is an important initiative, but it remains to be seen whether Komnas Ham will respond positively.

In Yogyakarta, Central Java, a group of former PKI prisoners has started to investigate the 1965 killings in that area with a view to establishing a database of evidence against Suharto.

Moves have also been made by the Portuguese section of the International Commission of Jurists to have Suharto extradited to Portugal for crimes in East Timor. That initiative is, however, likely to fail since there is no extradition treaty between Portugal and Indonesia and Suharto will be wary of travelling to a third country which might extradite him. In any event, Portuguese groups may now consider it prudent to desist from any action which might antagonise the Indonesian Government at this sensitive time in negotiations on the future of East Timor.

Possible mechanisms

It is important that Indonesian groups take the lead in the campaign to indict Suharto and their initiatives should be watched closely and supported from abroad. Ideally, Suharto should be called to account before an Indonesian tribunal, but if that does not prove possible, there are several options at the international level.

The Pinochet precedent - according to which a Spanish judge has compiled a series of charges relating to offences committed against Spanish citizens - could be used, but it is most applicable to East Timorese citizens living in Portugal of Australia. In their case, it may not advisable for the reasons stated above.

The Permanent International Criminal Court established by the UN in June 1998 is not an option since it cannot deal with crimes committed before it was set up. However, an ad hoc tribunal similar to those relating to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda might be possible if sufficient international political will can be generated and if a new Indonesian regime can be persuaded to acknowledge the jurisdiction of such a tribunal. There is a recent precedent in the case of Cambodia. Following a resolution by the UN General Assembly, a team of experts recently visited the country to investigate crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian Prime Minister has accepted the establishment of an international tribunal as long as it operates outside the country.

At present, the indictment of Suharto is not high on the list of priorities of the international community, and key players, such as the US and the UK, may be reluctant to provide support in view of their complicity in some of Suharto's most heinous crimes.

For this reason, it is necessary for campaigners to concentrate initially on raising the profile of Suharto as a brutal dictator and on shaming the international community into taking action against him.

Raising awareness

Following the Pinochet case, commentators and legal experts have speculated on the possible trials of other notorious criminals such as Idi Amin, 'Baby Doc' Duvalier, and Saddam Hussein but little has been said about Suharto. The scale of his crimes has not yet entered into international consciousness.

Ironically, Suharto's anti-communist purge in the 1960s was considered to be such an admirable precedent by Pinochet's troops that they scrawled the warning 'Jakarta is coming' on the walls of the presidential palace during the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende. Even then, the violence they unleashed, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths and disappearances, was nothing compared to that inflicted by the Suharto regime on its hundreds of thousands of murder victims.

One means of raising awareness is the establishment of an Alternative International Tribunal similar to the Bertrand Russell tribunal set up to investigate Vietnam War atrocities. This will need the support of partners such as the International Commission of Jurists and the US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which successfully sued Major-General Sintong Pandjaitan in relation to the murder of Kamal Bamadaj, a Malaysian student during the Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor.

Power and impunity

Proceedings against Suharto should also help to curb the malign influence he continues to exert over everyday political events, and undermine some of the enduring power structures founded on his patronage network and the privileged position of the armed forces.

Unless action is taken against him, Suharto's continued freedom and impunity will remain a dangerous source of instability at this crucial time in Indonesia's democratic development. Followers of Suharto have been linked with much of the violence which has shaken the country in recent months. In particular, a close friend and ally, Yorrys Raweyai, who heads the Pemuda Pancasila youth group has been questioned about his involvement in provoking recent religious rioting in Ambon, which has so far claimed well over 100 lives [see separate item].

Meanwhile press reports have indicated that the Suharto family is funding up to 70 political parties in an attempt to influence the June elections and prevent his eventual trial.

10. Dialogue in West Papua faces obstruction

An initiative taken by many NGOs, tribal leaders and the Protestant and Catholic churches in West Papua to enter into dialogue with the government in Jakarta about the future of West Papua is being met with obstruction and manipulation by the authorities. This could result in renewed confrontation in the territory where the pressure for fundamental change has greatly intensified since the downfall of Suharto.

The idea of entering into dialogue with the central government as a way of reducing tensions emerged in the wake of a number of flag-raising incidents last year. Raising the West Papuan flag has long been a traditional form of peaceful struggle by West Papuans in defiance of their country's annexation as Indonesia's province of 'Irian Jaya'. Flag-raising ceremonies in Manokwari, Sorong, and Wamena last year reached a climax when the West Papuan flag was raised and kept aloft for five days in the harbour of Biak at the beginning of July 1998. The army responded with a brutal assault which left an unknown number of people dead and many injured.

The army regional commander, Major-General Amir Sembiring declared that such activities would be regarded as acts of treason and treated accordingly, and the leader of the Biak action, Filipe Yakob Samuel Karma, was tried and sentenced to six years for rebellion. Meanwhile, those responsible for the shooting and killing of perhaps scores of people in Biak's harbour have not been called to account.

Calls for a national dialogue

The initiative for a dialogue with the central government was taken by FORERI, the Forum for the Reconciliation of Irian Jaya Society, which was set up in Jayapura on 24 July last year. [See TAPOL Bulletin No 148, September 1998]

The dialogue initiative was first mooted when a fact-finding team from the Indonesian Parliament visited West Papua in July following the outcry provoked by the killings in Biak. The call was renewed at a seminar in Jakarta on 1 August, at which West Papuans suggested that the dialogue should be followed by an international dialogue involving the UN. The way in which the UN sealed the territory's fate following the farcical 'Act of Free Choice' in 1969 has rankled with West Papuans ever since and is now being openly discussed in the Indonesian national press. [See for instance, 'Human rights violations continue in Irian Jaya' by Yohanis G. Bonay, in The Jakarta Post, 17 December 1998.]

The idea received a cautious welcome from the Habibie administration and his Secretary of State, Akbar Tanjung, who is also General Chairman of GOLKAR, was put in charge of making the arrangements. Initially, it was announced that the dialogue would take place when President Habibie made a visit to the territory in January for an unconnected event. But disagreements soon emerged over the agenda. While West Papuans made it clear that they wanted an open agenda, with all the options - autonomy, federation and independence - on the table, the government began to dither and the January talks did not take place.

When Akbar Tanjung announced that month that the dialogue with Habibie would take place 'after Idil Fitri' (the end of Ramadhan on 19-20 January), and that the framework would be Irian's retention within the Indonesian Republic, a highly sceptical Protestant minister from Timika, Rev. Nato Gobay, wondered whether he meant this year's Idul Fitri or next year's. The Bishop of Jayapura, Mgr Leo Laba Ladjar said the dialogue was needed 'to find out why Irianese demand independence from Indonesia'. [The Jakarta Post, 23 January]

Groups in the different regions meanwhile are appointing their delegations to the dialogue in anticipation of it taking place. In Manokwari, the 20-person delegation will be headed by the bupati or district chief, William A. Ramar. He and others made representations to the National Human Rights Commission in Jakarta, seeking a guarantee that these preparations for the dialogue could proceed without fear and intimidation. After it became known that the Manokwari delegation would express the local community's desire to secede from Indonesia, delegation members had been subjected to terror and intimidation. [Kompas, 15 January]

Another way of countering the pro-independence upsurge is the activities of Yulian Yap Marey, a former member of the armed resistance, the OPM, who has since fallen under the army's wing, to persuade villagers not to support independence. Following a visit to a border village, near Skouw, villagers are reported to have said that all they were interested in was getting their basic needs, not discussing independence. Marey is also working hard to bring together 'traditional leaders' from all districts to support the idea of 'otonomisasi' or autonomy. The decision will be published in book form and circulated through the territory. 'What I am stressing to the entire community is that we should forget about independence and focus on preparing for a better future through autonomy,' said Marey. [Cendrawasih Pos, 15 December 1998.]

Those connected with FORERI see this as a campaign being engineered by the army to roll back the tide of opinion in favour of independence.

The Council of the Amungme tribal people, Lemasa, declared that it could not accept a government proposal to call the dialogue a silaturahmi or 'social get-together' and said it would not take part if the government failed to stop the manipulations of the local government and the armed forces which were causing confusion and splitting the community. [See resolution adopted by the Lemasa congress in December 1998.]

Another source of disruption is the involvement of Yorrys Raweyai, a West Papuan who chairs Pemuda Pancasila, a highly-suspect youth organisation closely allied to the Suharto family which is being used to provoke social clashes in various parts of the country (see separate item on the unrest in Ambon). Yorrys has managed somehow to win the confidence of the FORERI branch in Jakarta. Although a staunch supporter of the New Order regime and all its basic political principles, he has recently taken the initiative in several demonstrations in favour of a free West Papua which can only be seen as provocative.

OPM and the dialogue

The Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) which has been waging armed struggle in West Papua since 1965 has signalled its willingness to shift its emphasis to a political strategy and is clearly anxious to be part of the national dialogue. Last year, the OPM commander, Mathias Wenda, put out feelers to the regional military commander about a ceasefire between the two forces. This drew a cautious response from Major-General Amir Sembiring although there has been no confirmation of a ceasefire having been agreed.

In mid February, an 18-person OPM delegation arrived in Jayapura hoping to enter into talks with the military commander. The delegation included the secretary-general and the chief-of-staff of the OPM as well as the wife of Mathias Wenda. As we went to press, it was not clear whether the talks would go ahead. The members of the delegation were staying at a hotel in Jayapura and had met several officers of the military command on an informal basis. [Cendrawasih Pos, 19 February]

The 1969 'act of free choice'

Engineering opinion in West Papua has been a hallmark of Indonesian activities ever since Indonesian officials first set foot in West Papua in the early 1960s and reached its climax in 1969, during the so-called 'act of free choice'.

One of the Jakarta-appointed members of the council of 1025 'traditional chiefs' who took the unanimous decision on 2 August 1969 that West Papua should remain a part of Indonesia recently described the heavy-handed pressure they were under to adopt the 'right' decision. The Rev. Origenes Hokujoku, who was one of the 101 council members selected to 'represent' the capital, Soekarnopura as it was then called, recalls how it happened:

Three weeks before the referendum, the members were isolated. Instructors continually pressured them to vote for integration with Indonesia. The members were given a piece of paper with exact instructions on what to say. 'I remember we had a final rehearsal to see if we mastered our speeches. One man resisted, he refused to present the obligatory speech. The next morning, his body was found in a gorge. General Ali Murtopo (who was in charge of the so-called referendum) tried to placate me... but on other occasions he mocked me, saying: "The Americans have landed on the moon. Why not ask them for a piece of moon for the Papuans."'

'We have been let down by the world, by the United Nations, we have been denied a free choice.' [Algemeen Dagblad, 12 December 1998]

He described what happened as 'the day all Papuans cried'.

Habibie and the question of West Papua

Now that President Habibie has said on no uncertain terms that he wants to be rid of East Timor (see separate item), how is this likely to reflect on his attitude towards the equally legitimate demand for independence for West Papua?

The answer is, not much, if at all. For the post-Suharto administration in Jakarta under Habibie, East Timor has been seen as a endless drain on economic resources with little coming in to the state coffers (apart from what may soon be coming in from exploitation of Timor Gap oil) whilst being a diplomatic nightmare. On the other hand, West Papua is a huge source of revenue and foreign exchange as the exploitation of its abundant resources goes on without stop, whereas the international community still fails to acknowledge the huge injustice perpetrated against the West Papuans in 1969. Therefore, Habibie can afford to ignore the pressures now building up in the territory and rely on the army to keep things in check.

Habibie moreover has his own economic interests, having dreamed up a huge project to develop hydro-power, to support heavy industries and agro-industries in the Mamberamo watershed, for which he has been actively seeking investment from foreign partners in Germany and elsewhere. If it goes ahead, the project will destroy a huge area of pristine forests and swamplands while dispossessing several thousand indigenous people.

Habibie has also succumbed to pressure from Jim-Bob Moffet, the executive-director of the Orleans-based parent company of the mammoth copper-and-gold mining company, Freeport for the go-ahead from Jakarta to expand its output from the present 160,000 metric tons to 300,000 metric tons per day, regardless of the devastating impact on the local environment. Habibie's decision has caused friction within his own cabinet, with the Minister for Mines, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, insisting on holding out for an increase in the royalties paid by the company and other obligations.

Freeport in the eyes of the Amungme

But the controversy between senior officials in Jakarta is taking place without consulting the local people whose land was seized against their wishes and who have suffered degradation of their environment ever since. At best, they offer a new law on autonomy which will increase the proportion of wealth returned to regions where it was earned, where it will be administered by regional officials, not by those whose lands were expropriated.

At a congress of the Amungme tribal council, Lemasa, in December last year, a resolution accused the US multinational of failing to pay proper attention to their demand for justice and warned that if this continued, 'Lemasa will take peaceful action to bring to an end Freeport's activities throughout Amungsa'. The resolution also said that the council's lawsuit filed against the company in the New Orleans district court, Lousiana state, would continue. It urged the company to enter into genuine and fair negotiations on an equal footing with Lemasa.

Responding to the news of Habibie's agreement with Moffet, Tom Beanal who chairs the Lemasa Council, condemned it because of 'the devastating impact the expansion (of output) will have on us living around the mining field.... People in Jakarta have never asked our opinion. The government has never allowed the Irianese people to think. If we protest their decision, they will send troops to kill us.' [The Jakarta Post, 30 January 1999]


The man who led the flag-raising ceremony in Biak from 2 - 6 July last year, Filipe Yacob Samuel Karma, 42, who had held a senior position in the regional administration, has been sentenced to six years and six months for rebellion, on charges of 'separatism'. During his trial, hundreds of supporters packed the court-room and after the verdict was announced on 1 January, they marched through the streets of Biak to the prison where he was being held, singing hymns and shouting slogans against the Indonesian government and the security forces.

Two days after he was sentenced, Karma was suddenly taken from his cell in Biak Prison and bundled into a helicopter for transfer to a prison in Jayapura. The prisoner demanded to see the transfer instruction before agreeing to be moved, out of fear that he might be being kidnapped. A scuffle occurred during which a serious gunshot wound in the leg which he sustained when he and his colleagues were defending the West Papuan flag was re-opened. He was naked by the time his assailants dragged him out of the cell. He was taken hand-cuffed and under heavy guard to Jayapura. The reason for the transfer is not clear.

Meanwhile, in Wamena, the capital of the district of Jayawijaya in the central highlands, ten people identified only by their initials, have gone on trial for their involvement in a flag-raising ceremony in Wamena on 7 July last year. One of the defendants is a 14-year old boy. They face charges that carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Meanwhile, a senior police official in Jayapura has announced that the documents relating to charges against Theus Eluay, the highly-respected chief of the Sentani tribe, have been delivered to the public prosecutor. Theus and others who were arrested with him last October are likely to face charges of rebellion. Shortly after his arrest, Theus was released into house arrest, in an apparent move to reduce protest at the arrest of such a widely-respected figure. Shortly before his arrest, Theus was appointed head of the Conference of All Tribal Peoples of Irian Jaya, making him a man of great influence in society. It remains to be seen whether the authorities will ever see fit to put such a man on trial.