Military denies it is arming thugs to foment unrest

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

It is inconceivable to think that the military is allowing unrest so that it can capture power, army chief Gen Subagyo tells reporters

THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri) on Monday rejected suggestions that the military was arming thugs and attempting to foment unrest in the capital to seize power.

Army chief General Subagyo Hadisiswoyo and several senior officers told reporters at a press conference following the start of the four-day special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) that it was “inconceivable” for the military to resort to such tactics.

“The military will check and take measures to prevent clashes between supporters in favour and against the MPR session,” he said.

He was responding to questions which came fast and furious from several Indonesian reporters who pressed him on why there was no police and army presence in at least two areas of Jakarta where clashes almost erupted between opposing groups.

One even alleged that the police had given a permit to one group to arm themselves with knives and other weapons.

National police chief Lt-General Roesmanhadi retorted, saying that his officers would never give any group permission to dothat.

As he spoke, riot police and troops had difficulty warding off hundreds of rowdy government supporters carrying sharpened bamboo poles in a tense face-off with anti-government protesters.

The government supporters wore headbands and shouted “Allahu Akbar”, threatening to “finish off” their opposition.

More than 2,000 soldiers deployed at the scene formed security rings leading up to the Parliament to prevent clashes between the groups.

They were joined by 125,000 civilian volunteers who guarded the approach to the complex.

Several of them formed roving bands of stick-wielding vigilantes on trucks.

Earlier in the day, protesters on motorcycles fled when they were pushed back by guards armed with sticks. The guards had been drafted to safeguard the special MPR session.

In Central Jakarta, hundreds of people supporting reformist students massed around a park occupied by vigilantes, attacked and burned a passing van and beat up the driver, accusing him of being one of the vigilantes.

Later in the evening, a car in Central Jakarta was burnt when students and pro-government supporters clashed.

There were also reports of large protests by pro-reform students in other cities.

Thousands of students thronged the streets in Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya, demanding that the assembly discuss the prosecution of former President Suharto.

Golkar faction chairman Marzuki Darusman told reporters that the ruling party had issued a statement to register its concern that the security measures to safeguard the Parliament might have been “overly organised”.

Main avenues around the Parliament compound were deserted – a far cry from the demonstrations in May that toppled former President Suharto.

An eerie silence also fell on several areas of the capital of 10 million people as the MPR session began.

Roads were clear, a rarity in Jakarta which is notorious for its traffic jams.

Many offices, schools and stores closed and they are expected to re-open only after the session ends tomorrow.

But some parts of Jakarta remained a hive of activity, particularly university campuses.

More than 5,000 University of Indonesia students gathered to protest against the special session, which they castigated for being too close to the former regime.

Gen Subagyo said on Monday that the military was up to the task of keeping peace in the sprawling Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and 200 million people.

He brushed aside the notion that Abri did not have resources to deal with the rising political tension.

“It is a combined effort,” he said, adding: “We can secure peace and security in this country if the people work with the military.”

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