‘Politics behind killings in Java’

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

The killings are aimed at eroding the power base of the Muslim organisation NU, says a legislator

THE recent killings in East Java are politically motivated, a member of a parliamentary fact-finding team here said yesterday.

The source, who is here with seven other legislators to investigate the more than 150 murders in the south-eastern tip of Java, said criminal intent was responsible for the “witch hunt” of traditional practitioners of black magic in the early stages.

But he maintained that this was used subsequently as a red herring or guise to kill several Muslim figures and supporters of the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU).

“One of our findings is that this is aimed at instilling terror in East Java and emasculating NU’s power base,” he said.

“One theory is that this could be a calculated attempt to maintain the political status quo and ensure that Golkar wins in next year’s election.”

He declined to comment on who had ordered the killings that have occurred in 18 out of 21 sub-districts in Banyuwangi, an area with a population of about two million.

The murders later spread to Jember, Pasuruan, Malang and Madura.

There have also been isolated cases in central and western Java in recent weeks.

From January to July this year, black magic practitioners or shamans were targeted as a result of what a senior military official has called “witch hunts” or revenge killings by families cursed by the shamans.

The pattern broadened from July to the end of August and victims included prominent Muslim preachers and teachers.

In the last few weeks, more and more of the victims had been NU figures and supporters.

Public statements by senior military figures appeared to contradict one another.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Feisal Tanjung said earlier this month that the killings were linked to “communist vengeance” as revenge for the mass murders of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members in the mid-60s.

But Abri chief General Wiranto said earlier this month that they could have been the result of rivalry between elite political factions.

His comments were in synch with NU chairman Abdurrahman Wahid who believed that there was political motive and that some Cabinet members were involved.

He did not name anyone. This led to speculation in the local media that he was referring to Minister of Cooperatives and Small Enterprises, Mr Adi Sasono.

Mr Adi, however, categorically denied any involvement and argued that he had long been the target of such baseless rumours.

He said: “Do you believe that a Cabinet member still has time to carry out the killings of alleged sorcerers? It is illogical and absurd.”

A senior NU source in East Java said it was impossible for the murders to have been carried out without the involvement of disaffected Abri elements operating outside the chain of command.

The killers, known here as “Ninjas” because of their face mask and black attire, were well-funded and able to operate over a wide area.

“The whole thing was very organised and professionally executed,” he said.

“Only the military can carry out such operations. This is a conspiracy to maintain the status quo.

“Some in the military are still in favour of a strong Golkar-Abri alliance.”

The legislator said the fact-finding team led by Abri faction leader Hari Sabarno would submit a report to the President later this week.

He noted that while speculation was rife that attempts were being made to undercut support for NU in East Java, it was “also possible to a lesser degree” that the killings could be aimed at “prolonging the country’s crisis” and discrediting the Habibie administration.

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