Wiranto holds meetings with generals


INDONESIA’S armed forces chief General Wiranto, under fire for his crackdown of the recent student protests, has met several retired and outspoken generals, in what analysts see as further evidence of him engaging in damage control.

At the two-hour meeting on Friday, which included former vice-president Try Sutrisno, defence minister Benny Murdani and home affairs minister Rudini, he called on them to support the Habibie government’s efforts at political reform and accept the results of the special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly.

“He asked them not to make any statements that could worsen further the political situation in Indonesia,” an Abri insider told The Sunday Times. “He wants them to close ranks with active officers.”

Gen (Ret) Try was quoted by The Jakarta Post yesterday as saying one aim was to keep good links between serving and retired officers, many of whom are part of the “Abri Big Family”.

“We hope that the Abri Big Family will always be able to communicate with Abri leaders and provide as many inputs as possible so that they can perform their duties well,” he said.

Political observers said the meeting underscored Gen Wiranto’s attempts to “win over the ground slowly from different groups and to reduce any potential misunderstandings given the difficult and weak position he is in” following the violent clashes between troops and students which left at least 14 people dead.

This is not his first attempt at damage control since the incident which many now refer to as “Black Friday”. Earlier this week, in an unprecedented move, he instructed aides to place advertisements in several major newspapers to express condolences for those who died. Abri sources said that his main aim was to “diffuse tensions”.

Also in the works in the coming weeks are plans to organise a series of secret ad hoc meetings between the generals and student leaders to “try and work together to avoid fighting each other on the streets again”.

US President Bill Clinton yesterday urged Indonesia not to backslide on its commitment to hold democratic elections next year and avoid reliance on military power.

Commenting on this, a senior government source said: “It makes sense for him to say such things. It also makes sense to us because more and more we see America’s hidden hand in affecting the course of Indonesian politics.”

Posted in Indonesia