Ex-generals linked to Xmas bombings

Did they have a hand in this?

Two who have been named by police are ex-army chief Gen Hartono and former Special Forces chief Lt-Gen Prabowo, Mr Suharto’s son-in-law.

Two former army generals with close links to the Suharto regime – R. Hartono and Prabowo Subianto – have been named in a police report on the bloody Christmas Eve bombings in Indonesia last month.

President Abdurrahman Wahid said in an interview with Newsweek magazine that ex-army chief General Hartono and former Special Forces chief Lt-Gen Prabowo – who is Mr Suharto’s son-in-law – were under investigation for the nationwide bomb attacks on Dec 24.

“It only means that the police will investigate and if they find proof, they will detain anybody who’s involved,” he said in the interview, published in the latest edition of the magazine.

His comments take place against a backdrop of widespread speculation in recent weeks that retired army officers played a key role in masterminding the synchronised bombings that killed 18 and injured more than 100.

Both Gen Hartono and Lt-Gen Prabowo’s names have been mentioned in the palace circle as possible suspects given their links to extremist Muslim groups and some disaffected elements of the army, and the enormous financial resources they have to flex their muscles.

The two were well known within and outside the armed forces for engaging in “adventurism” time and again to alter the political balance to their advantage.

Lt-Gen Prabowo, for example, was said to have masterminded the May riots in 1998.

Sources said that much of the ethnic and religious riots in Java in the mid-90s was very much the initiative of Gen Hartono, who is reported to be close to Mr Suharto’s eldest daughter, Mrs Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana.

They added that the recent bombings bore his imprint.

For conspiracy theorists, the possible partnership of the two generals becomes clearer given the close relationship they enjoyed at the height of their military careers.

When Gen Hartono was army chief, the young Prabowo catapulted up the ranks, earning two stars in less than a year. But their ties ruptured later because of personal ambition and rivalry.

Presidential aides maintained that despite this, both shared interest in joining forces again to undermine Mr Abdurrahman’s government.

“Both of them share the same goal of wanting to bring down the President to protect Pak Harto and his family,” a presidential adviser said.

But those who opposed Mr Abdurrahman believed that his comments to Newsweek were just another of his bizarre statements designed to confuse the public.

Indeed, Lt-Gen Prabowo – who is based in Jordan after his discharge from the army but who still makes frequent trips to Jakarta – was said to have been angry that his name was being bandied around.

Newsweek quoted Mr Abdurrahman as saying: “I received a message from Prabowo. He was very upset that his name was mentioned in the police report. He said that it should be proven.”

A Cabinet minister, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times that a number of “former generals were involved in the attacks although we have not identified them 100 per cent”.

“The attacks carried the hallmark of an operation by rogue elements of the military,” he said. “No civilian group could have carried it out on their own.”

A former palace official, who worked with Mr Abdurrahman in the first eight months of his presidency, revealed that the “strongest suspect” was Gen Hartono.

“He was doing the bidding of Suharto’s eldest daughter,” he said.

“There is so much resentment in the former First Family of how the Gus Dur government has treated their father. They are striking back.

“But Hartono is not alone. There are a few others pointing the barrel of the gun in Gus Dur’s direction.”

Senior military sources maintained that even if ex-generals were involved in the bombings, they could not have done it alone and possibly worked with radical Islamic elements.

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