Revolt Spreads in Indonesia


Since the Indonesian dictatorship retreated on May 21, by changing the formal head of state, the wave of rebellion throughout the archipelago has continued to rise. But the military is still trying to keep the lid on.

A huge military force was sent to the campus of the University of Indonesia in Jakarta on June 21 to stop a projected rally of workers and students that was expected to attract 10,000 people. The demonstration was called by the University of Indonesia People’s Struggle Command Post and the Workers Committee for Reformation Action.

“Reformation,” or “reformasi” in Indonesian, has become the general term for the antidictatorial movement, although now the government itself is trying to appropriate the term, claiming that it also is for democratic reforms.

The June 28 web news digest of Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (e- mail: <<) reported that soldiers were fanning out across Jakarta on June 22 to try to prevent demonstrations. Previously, a Reuters dispatch of June 15 had reported that there were daily demonstrations in the Indonesian capital against U.S. interference in the country’s internal affairs.

Since the dictatorship was forced onto the defensive, more and more information has been coming to light about violations of the human rights of political dissidents by U.S.-trained and fostered military officers, such as Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto, son-in-law of former president Suharto, who was forced to resign not long after his father-in-law and patron.

Before the present rebellion, according to The Nation magazine of June 15, a U.S. embassy official said that “Prabowo is our fair-haired boy; he’s the one who can do no wrong.”

Workers, previously denied the right to form their own unions, are organizing everywhere. The number of strikes is multiplying. Major strikes have already developed in Surabaya, Java, Indonesia’s second largest city.

On June 17, the workers at the city’s port walked out, demanding that their wages be increased to the equivalent of US$1 per hour. At the same time, a number of strikes broke out in the factory belt surrounding Jakarta.

Reuters reported June 25 that the military had doubled the number of soldiers sent to guard a factory complex in Surabaya, where 4000 workers are on strike. On June 22, 10,000 workers from the Kasagi shoe factory marched through the streets of the city.

The military commander for Jakarta, Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, warned on June 22 that he had ordered his troops to clamp down hard on any workers’ demonstrations. He was quoted by the June 23 Jakarta Post, as saying: “I have warned them several times already. If they continue, I will cripple them. Just wait and see.”

However, on June 24, Sjamsoeddin was removed from his command and kicked upstairs to a position as “advisor on national affairs” to the army chief of staff. Obviously, the government and the military are trying to ride a tiger, and they are having a hard time to know how hard they can pull on the bridle without being thrown off and devoured.

All the struggles that were suppressed by the ruthless and all-embracing military dictatorship are now breaking through the surface. A prime example is the fight of the people of East Timor, who were forcibly incorporated into Indonesia in 1975.

Supporters of East Timor independence have been demonstrating even in Jakarta.

The military continues to attack these actions. However, despite a history of massive losses suffered by this people in their fight against Indonesian rule, supporters of Timorese independence are not being intimidated.

In the East Timorese capital of Dili, when the troops shot and killed a youth, the small city of about 170,000 inhabitants exploded.

In its June 28 issue, Kompas quoted the local Indonesian military commander, Endar Priyanto, as saying, “The situation is certainly hot but still under control.”

The same could perhaps be said for Indonesia as a whole. But no one can say how long the military’s control will hold.

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