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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

MAY 20-21

IN THE HOURS BEFORE dawn, the city had been sealed off. Hundreds of troops armed with assault rifles and backed by light tanks and armored personnel carriers patrolled Jakarta. The National Monument, where the million-person protest was to occur, was cordoned off, surrounded by barbed wire and heavily guarded. The march was canceled.

That evening Wiranto told Suharto that the only constitutional way to transfer power was to cede the presidency to Habibie. Wiranto made three demands of Habibie: Wiranto would remain armed forces chief, Habibie would commit to reform, Prabowo would be transferred.

But Habibie had come to know Prabowo. They had both lived abroad. They shared an interest in promoting Muslim interests. They needed each other. Prabowo had helped Habibie make friends with senior officers. And, say associates, during the week, he worked with Habibie to encourage Suharto to resign. In turn, they say, Habibie agreed to make Prabowo army chief.

At 9 a.m. on May 21, Suharto resigned on national television and asked for forgiveness. Habibie seemed to hesitate before stepping up to be sworn in as Indonesia's third president since Independence.

Late that night, says a senior military official, Prabowo appeared at the presidential palace in full battle gear, armed with an automatic pistol and accompanied by truckloads of special Kostrad troops who had stripped off their regimental markings. Prabowo wanted to force Habibie to honor his promise that Prabowo would be promoted to army commander.

Habibie's aide-de-camp called Wiranto and Feisal Tanjung, a former armed forces commander, to the palace. Feisal warned Habibie that Prabowo was too dangerous a man to lead the army. Habibie later told people he feared for his life that night.


Habibie announced his cabinet at 10:30 a.m. on May 22. Students still occupied Parliament, demanding that he step down. Several thousand members of Muslim youth organizations, supporters of Habibie and protected by Prabowo's troops, arrived at the complex that afternoon. The confrontation was tense, but did not turn violent. By midnight soldiers had cleared Parliament.

The military announced on June 6 that it was charging two police commanders from the Mobile Brigade with disobeying orders and not controlling their troops at Trisakti. They face maximum sentences of 28 months in prison. Fifteen other suspects await court martial.

The then-national police chief, Gen. Dibyo Widodo, denied his troops were responsible for the deaths of the four students. He said on June 7: "We have checked with every officer assigned there and found that none of our men used live ammunition." On June 24 Wiranto transferred him, along with other top military commanders, calling it a routine rotation. Insiders say the police chief lost his job because he refused to take the blame for the shootings. After meeting the parents of the four slain students for 30 minutes June 22, Habibie called them "reform heroes."

At police headquarters, three students and a Trisakti security official guard the bullet taken from Hery Hartanto's body June 7. Whenever the bullet is removed from a safe for tests, the team records it on videotape and notes its markings to make sure the bullet has not been switched. The police promised not to open the safe without a university representative there.

Theoretically it is possible to identify which gun fired the bullet that killed Hartanto. But in practice it may not be. The Indonesian military possesses more than 2,000 Steyr rifles (the weapon determined to have been used in the killings) and is resisting an open investigation. Plus it is possible to buy Steyrs on the black market. Authorities have confiscated 21 weapons from officers on duty May 12, but have not handed them over to investigators.

Adnan Buyung Nasution, the lead defense lawyer and a noted human-rights activist, says: "It is far too early to make conclusions about who is responsible, but the military has tried to limit the investigation." He has said, repeatedly, that the trial is "engineered." The military judge closely questions the defendants' testimony, but witnesses for the prosecution are rarely challenged. His displeasure with Buyung is obvious. On at least one occasion the two shouted at each other in court, prompting security guards around the room to snap to. And more than once the judge has threatened to banish Buyung from the trial.

On May 28, the day Prabowo was installed as head of an army staff college in Bandung, he said reports of his attempted coup were "rubbish, rubbish, rubbish." But a senior military officer says Suharto has refused to speak to Prabowo, even when Prabowo visited his father-in-law on June 8, Suharto's 77th birthday.

Syafrie admitted on June 13 that in parts of Jakarta, some riots were "sporadically organized" by groups. The Jakarta military commander, a Prabowo ally, was transferred June 24, after serving in the post for eight months.

Jakarta city police have summoned a Chinese ex-convict-turned-Muslim-preacher for questioning about his role in the riots. Anton Medan was on the streets of Jakarta May 14, to dissuade people from violence, he says. A source close to the military believes Medan was offered money to send boys to start trouble, but refused. That, he says, may be why someone gave Medan's name to the authorities. So far, he is the only suspect that the military has named.

The armed forces has said its own investigation did not find evidence of rapes and that not a single victim had come forward. State Minister for Women's Affairs Tutty Alawiyah also at first denied that women were raped during the riots. But on July 8 she formed an all-woman team to help those assaulted. Clementino dos Reis Amaral, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, warned July 9 of a possible attempt at a cover-up because some rape victims had been warned to keep quiet. The commission has called for an independent probe into the shootings, riots and rapes and an official apology.

On July 13, Habibie formed a team to probe the riots; it includes Wiranto, the attorney general and the home, foreign and justice ministers. The next day, Military Police Chief Maj.-Gen. Syamsu Djalal said seven Kopassus troops had been arrested for the abduction of pro-democracy activists kidnapped earlier this year. On July 15 Habibie condemned the May violence.

A source close to the military says that, as of early July, 74 Kopassus soldiers were missing from their barracks. He believes they are on Jakarta's streets, collecting information and covering their tracks. Two human-rights activists, Father Sandyawan and Ita Nadia, have been warned (with a live grenade) to end their investigations into the riots and rapes.

Back to Page 5

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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