Abri jails 163 soldiers for 21 days

They will be court-martialled if found guilty of using excessive force during the Nov 13 clashes with protesters.

ACTING on its pledge to act against errant troops, the Indonesian military has jailed 163 soldiers for using excessive force during violent clashes with demonstrators two weeks ago.

Military police chief, Major-General Djasri Marin, said the soldiers would be imprisoned for 21 days as a disciplinary measure in the first instance.

If on-going investigations by the armed forces (Abri) during this period found them guilty of the charges, they were likely to be court-martialled, the Media Indonesia daily yesterday quoted him as saying.

The crackdown against the soldiers involved in the Nov 13 incident which killed at least 14 people and injured hundreds, follows a promise by the Abri leadership to punish soldiers for violating orders.

Abri spokesman Syamsul Mu’arif said that more than 160 soldiers would be punished. They included 144 who fired rubber bullets at the thousands of protesters without orders from their superiors.

Twelve officers would also be charged with failing to control their troops who among other things beat up three journalists.

Political observers said that the disciplinary move was an attempt to “assuage an angry public already disillusioned with the military”.

Noted a Western diplomat: “They are responding to public pressure. They have to move fast to counter a groundswell opinion growing against them.”

It does take the sting off, albeit temporarily, for Abri chief General Wiranto who has been blamed by many for the clashes.

But another round of violence on Monday in the North Sumatran capital of Medan dampened any damage control exercise.

At least four people were wounded when troops opened fire with rubber bullets to break up thousands of protesters angered by the shooting of a villager by a soldier guarding the Indorayon Utama pulp and paper plant.

This, together with continued speculation of a military faction being responsible for the clashes and “irregularities” in autopsies, threw a further spanner in the works.

Maj-Gen Syamsul said on Sunday that “irregularities” had been found in autopsies that indicated live ammunition was used and in at least one case was of a type not issued by Abri.

A forensic scientist disclosed that some of the live bullets used were of a high-velocity type that exploded on entering the body and bore two exit holes.

Gen Wiranto insisted yesterday during a parliament hearing that Abri did not use such bullets.

Maj-Gen Djasri said that ballistic tests were still continuing and that the military was examining 65 weapons used by Abri personnel during the incident.

He said that Abri would also summon a 21-year-old student who confessed last week that he was forced into being a military informant.

Mr Wiwid Pratiwo testified at the National Human Rights Commission headquarters that he had been recruited forcibly as an informer by a military police officer with the initials “B.L.”.

In his testimony, he said he was warned through a pager provided to him by “B.L.” that troops would open fire and should leave the scene of the clashes in front of the Catholic Atmadjaya University.

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