Chinese women victimized in Indonesia ethnic attacks Rape campaign trying to scare rich merchants into abandoning property

July 31, 1998|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Aileen remains traumatized by the men who broke into her room July 2 and raped and mutilated her. They singled her out, she is convinced, because she is Chinese.

Scores of Chinese women report similar experiences in Indonesia this year, victims of a vicious expression of ethnic hatred in a nation with a history of interracial blood feuds.

Government ministers acknowledge that such gang rapes have taken place since mobs burned more than 5,000 Chinese stores and shopping malls in mid-May, led by agitators yelling, "Death to the Chinese."

Trying to project an image of stability and calm in a country that has seen its leader toppled and sections of its capital burned by rioters, President B. J. Habibie apologized recently to Indonesia's Chinese residents.

Intelligence sources believe the rapes are part of a campaign by paramilitary groups in league with the Jakarta mafia. Its purpose, they say, is to frighten an affluent Chinese minority into leaving the country -- and their property.

Intimidated by rapes, threats and extortion rackets, the Chinese face a wrenching dilemma: If they stay, they could be targeted; if they leave, they might lose their property and livelihood.

"I would never think of leaving," said a Chinese businesswoman in East Jakarta. "I was born here, and so were my parents. Like every Chinese who stays, we now pay protection to the army and people who come around asking for money to buy food."

Usman Lubis, a member of the Indonesian People's Advisers Assembly, a kind of senate, has urged the government to give Chinese who fled abroad after the riots a deadline to return. He suggests that the government cancel the business licenses and confiscate the property of Chinese who fail to return before the deadline.

"It is time for the government to give opportunities to the native Indonesians to run the economy in their own country," he said.

His statement echoed the belief of most Indonesians, who say ethnic Chinese -- who make up 3 percent of the population of 200 million but own an estimated 75 percent of the private economy -- must give up part of their wealth to salvage the country from economic turmoil.

But such threats are unlikely to influence Indonesia's Chinese tycoons, who have transferred about $80 billion of their assets this year to Singapore alone. Their funds, know-how and financial networks are essential if Indonesia is to recover from its crippling recession.

Aileen, 24, is still in the hospital. She does not want to speak to anyone, nor does her Chinese landlady in East Jakarta's Sunter district. The district is a middle-class area inhabited by ethnic Chinese who operate ground-floor shops and live above them. The windows are shuttered now, the doors triple-locked.

The landlady rents the rooms above her shop to Chinese workers from the countryside. She received an anonymous phone tip three days before the attack on July 2.

Four masked men broke into the shop. Upstairs they found only Aileen, a waitress, asleep. The other girls were at work.

"The same phone caller warned me afterward to keep quiet, or else they would know how to find me," the landlady said.

Social workers, many of them Indonesians, have been told to stop their investigations into the rapes or face retribution against their families, "because you're giving the country a bad name."

Social workers such as Ita Fatia Nadia have documented 182 rape cases in Jakarta, mainly during May and early June. She believes the cases are a small fraction of the total.

Most of the information checked out by her organization came from relatives after the victims had been taken out of the %J country, the majority flown to Perth, Australia, or to Singapore.

"Traditionally, Chinese families refuse to publicize their grievances. They have no faith in the authorities and try to protect the victims from future stigmatization. Mothers will always say it didn't happen to their daughters, even if we know from the circumstances it did," said social worker Myra Sidharta.

Social workers found that about 20 of the rape victims were killed. Two committed suicide when they found they were pregnant. Two sisters were sexually abused and then hurled into the flames of the family shop.

The rapes were carried out by gangs who raided living quarters after inciting mobs to loot and burn Chinese stores below.

A report by the National Committee on Human Rights concluded: "The rapists wanted to scare and disgrace the victims and to fill Chinese-Indonesians with terror."

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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