Abri maintains that riots were spontaneous

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

Indonesia’s armed forces say there is little evidence that a group systematically incited the violence that rocked the country last month.

THE Indonesian military has maintained that last month’s riots in Jakarta were spontaneous, with little indication that any group coordinated the country’s worst violence in three decades.

While stating this, Jakarta military commander Maj-General Sjafrie Syamsuddin acknowledged that some of the riots were organised by small local groups. But these mobs had no direct ties to each other.

“The members of each group became spontaneously involved in the riots, but we have not ruled out the possibility that the people were tied by emotional links,” news reports yesterday quoted him as saying.

He said that intelligence officers investigating the violence believe that a Muslim boarding school student could have organised a group of rioters.

“We received reports from people that he was around when a riot hit an area,” he said without elaborating.

He declined to name the suspect but The Jakarta Post quoted a military source as saying that he was Anton Medan, a convict-turned-preacher.

The two-star general said that many of those who took part in the three-day violence were women and children who joined in the looting and rioting spree, which officials here estimated to have cost some US$178 million (S$307 million) and led to the destruction of nearly 5,000 buildings.

Maj-Gen Syamsuddin said that while many rioters were from local neighbourhoods, investigations revealed that some were outsiders from Tangerang and Lampung in Sumatra.

“We have detained some of the alleged rioters but any detentions should follow legal procedures,” he said.

Pressure has been mounting on the powerful armed forces (Abri) from government and opposition figures to look into claims that the riots had been organised.

Last week, President B.J. Habibie as Abri’s supreme commander, told military chiefs here that they had to investigate allegations that “an organised group” was behind the riots.

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