Indonesian crimes not addressed

August 07, 1998|By Peter Dale Scott

U.S. SECRETARY of State Madeleine K. Albright made headlines when she protested the treatment of dissidents in China and Myanmar (Burma).

But she was silent about a much bigger crime against humanity -- the rapes, murders and disappearances of dissidents and ethnic Chinese in Indonesia last spring.

A word from Secretary Albright on this topic would carry some weight, for the United States itself has armed and trained the Indonesian armed forces, including the specific units accused of these crimes.

Last May, four students were shot and dozens of Chinese were killed or raped in a wave of violence which, according to almost every observer, was centrally organized, not spontaneous. Witnesses attribute the crimes to teams of hoodlums delivered by trucks, and these accounts are backed up by pictures taken with remote cameras. The anti-Chinese violence in particular suggests a pattern familiar in recent Indonesian history: the army deflecting resentment from itself and onto a prominent minority.

Many knowledgeable observers speculate that the arranged violence was part of a power struggle between Defense Minister Wiranto, who was tolerating protest to bring about political change, and General Prabowo (President Suharto's son-in-law), who had already encouraged anti-Chinese propaganda. After the violence, Mr. Prabowo was abruptly demoted. An investigation conducted by Mr. Wiranto led to the arrest in mid-July of 10 members of the special forces, or Kopassus, formerly commanded by Mr. Prabowo and one of his close allies, in connection with last spring's disappearances, kidnapping and torture of political dissidents.

Extensive investigations conducted by Asiaweek and the Far Eastern Economic Review also suggest that Kopassus and Mr. Prabowo may have instigated the anti-Chinese violence. Meanwhile, two prominent Muslim leaders, Abdurrahman Wahid and Amien Rais, have called upon the Army to pursue their investigation at a higher level than that of those already arrested.

This is not just a matter of simple justice. The hopes for a more democratic Indonesia depend on the Army's purging itself of those who would maintain power through fomenting violence and racial hatred. And this is why Ms. Albright's silence is so significant. She has declined to give human rights guidance to the country where it would be most appropriate.

The silence of Ms. Albright and the U.S. media on this matter is hardly surprising. Mr. Prabowo was until recently the fair-haired boy of the Pentagon, which poured millions into the training of Kopassus units, even after Congress ordered it to stop.

The U.S. media was also silent during two peak periods of army violence in the past: The army-instigated murders of a half-million or more Indonesians in 1965 and the 1975 invasion of East Timor, which resulted in 200,000 or more deaths in that small country. And the U.S. government and media allowed many years to pass before admitting that troops trained by the Pentagon were responsible for the massacre of civilians in El Salvador and Guatemala.

As a low-level member of Canada's Foreign Service some years ago, I saw first hand how swiftly decent bureaucrats would rush to cover up the crimes of their government and its allies. If the United States is to guide Indonesia away from racial politics, and toward a more open civilian government, it will take determined pressure from an outraged citizenry and Congress.

Peter Dale Scott wrote this for Pacific News Service.

Pub Date: 8/07/98

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