Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (11 of 24)

It's About Time
Laksamana.Net (May 9, 2003)

Almost exactly five years after the May 1998 riots that killed nearly 1,200 people in Jakarta, the government-sponsored National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has finally said what everyone already knew: the riots were systematically organized.

However, Komnas HAM stopped short of naming the members of the military and political elite who masterminded that May 13-15 riots that precipitated the downfall of former dictator Suharto.

"[The riots] did not take place spontaneously, but were systematically planned for widespread mayhem," Komnas HAM spokesman Enny Suprapto was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse on Thursday (8/5/03).

He said the riots were instigated by groups of provocateurs that encouraged mobs to loot shops and buildings.

The riots started a day after state security forces shot dead four students at the end of an anti-government protest at West Jakarta's elite Trisakti University. The breakdown in security amid spiraling inflation and economic collapse resulted in Suharto resigning on May 21, 1998.

Although Suprapto declined to name those suspected of organizing the violence, he said a team of Komnas HAM investigators plans to question several high-ranking military and police officers who were in charge of security at the time of the mayhem.

Among those to be questioned are former Indonesian Armed Forces commander General Wiranto, former chief of the Army's Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) Prabowo Subianto, and former Jakarta Military Police chief Major General Sjafrie Sjamsuddin.

Suprapto said the commission will send a letter to incumbent military commander General Endiartono Sutarto and ask a Jakarta district court to issue an order to summon the officers, by force if necessary.

Investigators won't be able to question former Jakarta Police chief Inspector General Hamami Nata, who was responsible for the capital's security during the unrest, because he died on May 1 at the age of 57.

The Komnas HAM team said the riots were due to a power struggle among the country's political forces and the deteriorating economic situation.

The main victims of the riots were looters who entered buildings and malls that were subsequently set alight and destroyed.

Also among the victims were ethnic Chinese, who have long been resented for their financial acumen. Hundreds of shops owned by ethnic Chinese were looted and destroyed during the riots.

Human rights activists say several hundred ethnic Chinese were killed and at least 168 ethnic Chinese females were systematically raped or gang-raped during the unrest.

The riots were first officially investigated by the so-called Joint Fact-Finding Team (TGPF), which established that some of the rioting had been provoked by individual members of the military under orders of some of their senior officers. However, the team said the military institution as whole could not be blamed.

TGPF head Marzuki Darusman on November 3, 1998, said that members of the military and the political elite were directly involved in the riots and had instigated the atrocities in the hope that by provoking chaos, they could justify the imposition of martial law.

One of the names mentioned as being responsible for the riots was then Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, who is now spokesman of the Indonesian Defense Forces.

The TGPF said it had verified 66 cases of rape were perpetrated during the riots, but could not say whether the crimes were organized or spontaneous. However, sources say the team failed to announce the full results of its investigations because of strong outside pressures.

Wiranto repeatedly insisted there was no evidence that mass rapes had taken place, although he later conceded that troops were "involved" in the riots.

The TGPF's findings and recommendations were never acted on.

Several of the most momentous and bloody events of Indonesia's history remain shrouded in mystery and have never been satisfactorily resolved.

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