New Abri chief gives rioters firm warning

GENERAL Wiranto, the newly-appointed chief of the Indonesian armed forces (Abri), warned yesterday that the military would crack down on rioters out to endanger the country.

“The military will take firm measures against people who engage in unconstitutional acts to endanger national security,” he told reporters after being sworn in to the top Abri post by President Suharto.

Gen Wiranto, who succeeded Gen Feisal Tanjung to the top military post, blamed certain groups for whipping up unrest ahead of the presidential election next month.

“There are certain groups who are trying to turn the situation in this country to their own advantage,” he said.

His comments came against a backdrop of violence in more than 25 towns in the country. Over the weekend, security forces shot and killed five people in riots on the islands of Lombok and Java, as tensions escalated primarily against ethnic Chinese shopowners over rising food prices.

Last week, Mr Suharto called on the military to step up its readiness to meet these problems, saying that he was “very concerned” with certain groups determined to see the “disintegration of the nation”.

Like Gen Wiranto, he did not name the parties responsible. But senior military officers have been referring to the banned People’s Democratic Party (PRD) as being behind moves to destabilise the country.

Diplomats told The Straits Times that the Jakarta Military Commander Syafrie Syamsudin held a briefing for foreign defence attaches here recently, during which he disclosed that the PRD was the “number one enemy” of the state, employing political tactics similar to the Communist Party in the 1960s.

Jakarta police chief Hamami Nata said that Abri would crack down on demonstrators organising activities with political motives.

He said that current laws allowed the authorities to jail them for up to five years if they were caught.

“If we find there are political reasons behind their activities, we will implement the law,” the Antara national news agency yesterday quoted him as saying.

“If the protests only demanded a wage hike, the measures we would take would be different.” He noted that recent demonstrations in Jakarta, for example, had been politically motivated, citing two protests last week by a group calling itself the Red and White Front.

The group, which takes its name from the colours of Indonesia’s flag, held marches through central Jakarta to protest against rising food prices. The authorities have yet to establish its links with any political party or organisation in the country.

Antara yesterday also quoted police spokesman Lt-Col Soetrisno T.S. as saying that police in East Java had threatened to shoot rioters on sight if they were deemed to pose a danger to others. He said police would not be reckless and would make sure that all shootings conformed to police regulations.

Gen Wiranto said that Abri was solidly behind the government and was aware that there were groups with an agenda to bring it down through “unconstitutional” means.

“A lot of people are saying that the root cause of these riots are economic problems but that is not the case,” he said.

But he stressed that their efforts had been futile and downplayed the impact of recent riots on Indonesia.

He said: “National stability has been maintained. There have been only a few places where stability and the restoration of the economy have been disturbed. That is natural. Every nation has its problems.”

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