Prabowo tells why he sent troops

FORMER president Suharto’s disgraced son-in-law said yesterday that he did mobilise troops in May last year but the aim was to protect the newly-elected President, Dr B. J. Habibie.

Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, who was ousted as head of the powerful Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) after the incident, also maintained that he had kept armed forces (Abri) chief General Wiranto informed of whatever he was doing.

“Never in my mind and heart did I want to contemplate something that was not constitutional,” he said in a statement.

The signed four-page statement from Amman, Jordan, where he is residing now, was a response to Dr Habibie’s allegations that the general had launched military deployments outside the new leader’s residence to challenge his appointment following Mr Suharto’s downfall.

Dr Habibie told participants at the Asian-German Editors Forum this week that he had received reports of the troop concentration from Gen Wiranto, who asked how he should respond. The President ordered his military commander to pull out the soldiers.

Lt-Gen Prabowo, who was removed from his post the next morning, said in his statement that he was merely following procedures in securing the capital, given the devastating riots and political uncertainty.

“All troop movements were reported to the top command,” he said, adding that this included regular reports of the ground situation.

Troop concentrations near the houses of the President and Vice-President were in line with operational orders issued at that time.

He maintained that it was inconceivable he would want to challenge Dr Habibie’s appointment.

Indeed, he had told hundreds of people at a closed-door gathering after Mr Suharto’s fall that he supported a transition that was constitutional.

“I am so sad that there is this perception that I tried to threaten President B. J. Habibie,” he said. “How can I do something negative to someone I have all along supported and defended and who I regarded as an elder.”

It is not very clear why the President chose to announce Lt-Gen Prabowo’s alleged actions more than seven months after the incident.

Political observers told The Straits Times that the German-trained engineer was keen to impress his foreign audience that “he was not handed power on the silver platter and that he had to fight for his position”.

Others believe that his comments “undermined” not just Lt-Gen Prabowo but Gen Wiranto as well for the military chief’s failure to keep his senior officers in line.

The Abri commander has yet to comment on the matter though sources close to him said he was “not too pleased” with Dr Habibie for resurrecting a past problem and making public the divisions within the military.

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