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(en) `Our Men in Jakarta' by Allan Nairn

From Tom Burghardt <tburghardt@igc.apc.org>
Date Sat, 30 May 1998 19:02:12 -0700 (PDT)
Cc aff@burn.ucsd.edu, amanecer@aa.net, ats@locust.etext.org, bblum6@aol.com, mnovickttt@igc.org, nattyreb@ix.netcom.com, pinknoiz@ccnet.com, sflr@slip.net

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

                        OUR MEN IN JAKARTA
     June 15, 1998
     By Allan Nairn
     As the Suharto dictatorship collapsed, suddenly, on May 21,
the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI), scrambled to safeguard their
police state. Rather than have Suharto quit as a scheduled mass
protest surged through the streets, the ABRI commander, General
Wiranto, threatened the students with a "Tiananmen," and then
persuaded Suharto to resign quietly.
     Although many students did not seem to realize it, the ABRI
leaders were frightened. They knew that if millions took to the
streets and the army lost control, the question would become not
just Suharto's rule but their own political survival. As it
happened, ABRI dodged the bullet: Suharto left, and so did the
students, pushed out of the parliament building they had held for
five days.
     Afterward, General Wiranto, consulting nonstop with the U.S.
Embassy, moved to cover some of ABRI's bloody tracks. He demoted
Lieut. Gen. Prabowo, Suharto's hated son-in-law, and moved boldly
to blame him for all ABRI offenses of recent months. The U.S.
government, through The Washington Post, announced on May 23 that
it had discovered that Prabowo was behind recent "disappearances"
of Indonesian activists. Two days earlier, on May 21, The Nation
had released an article that named the ABRI units involved in the
abductions -- some of them under Prabowo's control but all of
them under Wiranto's [see Nairn, "Indonesia's 'Disappeared,'"
June 8 cover date]. In the Post piece, U.S. officials professed
shock and "anger" at Prabowo, and said the embassy had been
working "to gain the activists' release."
     This was in contrast to the actual U.S. position. As one
embassy official described it for me at the height of the
disappearances: "Prabowo is our fair-haired boy; he's the one who
can do no wrong." In fact, Prabowo's units that participated in
the disappearances -- particularly KOPASSUS Group 4, which U.S.
officials singled out for blame in the Post -- were, from the
start of the abductions, in close and friendly liaison with U.S.
intelligence. Reached at his Jakarta home the night after Prabowo
was replaced, Colonel Chaiwaran, the Group 4 commander, confirmed
to me that he deals with Col. Charles McFetridge, the Defense
Intelligence Agency (D.I.A.) attache at the U.S. Embassy, with
whom, he said, he speaks in Indonesian.
     Although Chaiwaran denied it to me, other ABRI people say he
has said that Group 4's men have been trained by U.S.
intelligence, a claim that U.S. officials privately confirm. Last
year, during the run-up to the staged elections, KOPASSUS, with
U.S. support, was expanded from 3,000 to 4,800 combat troops.
According to an article by Col. John Haseman, formerly D.I.A.
attache in Jakarta, this was done "with an eye on potential
domestic instability."
     The Pentagon built up KOPASSUS with more than twenty-four
JCET training exercises and backed Prabowo's plan to obtain U.S.
helicopters. The United States openly lauded Prabowo after a 1996
hostage-rescue raid in West Papua in which, a knowledgeable
official says, his men murdered eight civilians after alighting
in a helicopter falsely (and illegally) marked with the Red Cross
     Although Prabowo's personal relish for atrocity is legendary
(a Timorese man told me of having his leg and teeth broken by
Prabowo), high-level U.S. officials paraded him this year as the
political crisis gathered steam. In January, Defense Secretary
William Cohen praised the "very impressive...discipline" of
KOPASSUS. Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth took Prabowo
along twice when he went to prison meetings with Xanana Gusmao,
the leader of the resistance in occupied East Timor, where
Prabowo has done his most extensive killings.
     No less consistent has been U.S. support for Prabowo's
professional rival, General Wiranto, whose units were also JCET
trained and who has been hailed as "a man of integrity and a true
Indonesian patriot" by Adm. Joseph Prueher, chief of the U.S.
Pacific Command. On March 4 Admiral Prueher told Congress that
the U.S. military was on alert for "early signs of instability"
in East Asia, including "labor disputes." Five days later, the
ABRI intelligence unit, BIA, which is under Wiranto's daily
control, picked up nine labor activists who had called for an
increase in the minimum wage. One U.S. official told me some of
the activists were tortured and noted that in previous weeks BIA
had staged a series of break-ins and ransackings at the offices
of labor, student and women's organizations. He added that in
East Timor, BIA was using a new tactic: breaking the hips of
     On March 8 Lieut. Gen. Yunus Yosfiah, one of the key men of
the Wiranto faction, told students that ABRI would not "tolerate
any campaigns for drastic political reform." (Yosfiah, now
Information Minister in the new government, has been implicated
in the 1975 murder of five foreign journalists in East Timor.)
The following night, a U.S. official, speaking off the record in
Jakarta, told me that ABRI was about to launch a thorough
     Even as we spoke, Haryanto Taslam, Megawati Sukarno's chief
field organizer, had already been run off the road and taken to a
torture center under the control of BIA, with participation from
KOPASSUS Group 4. As abductions continued and as Wiranto's
spokesman, Brig. Gen. Wahab Mokodongan, mocked the victims --
"perhaps the people who are said to have disappeared are
wandering around in the jungle" -- knowledgeable officials told
me that the activists' situation was thoroughly known to Colonel
McFetridge of the D.I.A. and to the embassy C.I.A. station. Yet
it was not until mid-April, after a crisis caused by public
protest, that the State Department went to Prabowo and pushed for
the release of some activists. Even after that, the Pentagon
continued to provide new JCET training, and State kept pressing
the democracy movement to back a new government formed around
     Today, as Prabowo has been thrown over and the United States
has thrown in with Wiranto, ABRI remains wary of the potential
for mass upheaval and has started releasing some formally
arrested political prisoners. But many dozens of "disappeared"
remain missing in East Timor, as do at least five of the abducted
Indonesian activists (Sonny, Rian, Herman, Bimo Petrus and
     The Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta reported this
spring that unknown and mutilated bodies were turning up along
railroad tracks. It is perhaps ominous for some of the missing
that when Megawati -- searching for Taslam -- went to a top ABRI
commander she was told an absurd but chilling tale. Some of the
"disappeared," the general claimed, were actually BIA
infiltrators who had penetrated the democracy movement and had
now returned to base. The implication: Their associates should
not expect to see them again.
     Allan Nairn has reported frequently on Indonesia. Research
     support was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation
     Copyright (c) 1997, The Nation Company, L.P. All rights
     reserved. Electronic redistribution for nonprofit purposes
     is permitted, provided this notice is attached in its
     entirety. Unauthorized, for-profit redistribution is
     prohibited. For further information regarding reprinting and
     syndication, please call The Nation at (212) 242-8400, ext.
     226 or send e-mail to Max Block at: mblock@thenation.com
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