‘Give Habibie a chance’


THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri) yesterday asked people to give the Habibie government a chance and warned that it would crack down on reform groups which disrupted national stability in their demands for political change.

In announcing this, Abri chief, General Wiranto, who is also Defence Minister, brushed aside suggestions that the powerful military was, at the very least, allowing demonstrations to lead to widespread chaos, or worse, somehow promoting this so that it would have an excuse to seize power.

“There is no truth in allegations that the military is behind all these problems,” he told a press conference. “Abri will never engage in political activities for its own benefit and to the nation’s detriment.”

He added: “Make sure you carry this in big headlines.”

He said he had instructed the police chief and other senior military heads to take firm action against “unconstitutional” activities of certain groups which were manipulating the tide of reform to pursue their own agendas.

He did not name any of the groups but analysts believe he was referring to protesters in scattered parts of the country calling for the resignation of President B.J. Habibie and the removal of local officials deemed corrupt. Demonstrations have been growing since Dr Habibie took power from Mr Suharto on May 21.

Just yesterday, about 5,000 students demonstrated outside Parliament in Jakarta, demanding that former president Suharto be tried for corruption and that a session of the nation’s top constitutional body be convened as soon as possible.

Gen Wiranto said if reformist aspirations were “not controlled properly, it could threaten the unity and cohesion of the nation”.

Reaffirming the armed forces’ support for the new government, Gen Wiranto said the Habibie administration needed to function and gain legitimacy “without being called upon to step down”.

He said the activities of some groups were deviations from the reform movement and could damage confidence in the new government. He noted: “We need investments to recover from this economic crisis. Political anarchy will only drive away investments and delay the government’s efforts in solving the nation’s problems.”

Sources here told The Straits Times that the military leadership’s attempts to keep peace in the country were complicated by the fact that it was also going through “a soul-searching period” to redefine its role after three decades under Mr Suharto’s rule. A concept paper of Abri’s new role was being prepared.

In addition to this, military sources said despite his undisputed control over the 475,000 Abri, Gen Wiranto still had to “weed out” several senior and middle-ranking officers said to be loyal to one-time rival Lt-Gen Prabowo Subianto. Lt-Gen Prabowo, Mr Suharto’s son-in-law, was ousted from the elite Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) last month.

Said a senior Abri officer: “The whole process could take up to a year before the military becomes united again.”

Analysts believe that intra-military rivalry could have contributed to the riots which preceded Mr Suharto’s resignation. It was Indonesia’s worst violence in three decades which human rights groups say killed over 1,000 people.

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