Political Tensions Rise in Indonesia

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As Indonesia approaches the June general elections that are designed to restabilize the country politically, it is evident that the situation remains explosive.

In two areas where the post-New Order government has offered concessions, East Timor and Aceh on the island of Sumatra, there have been new massacres.

Paramilitary forces began a wave of killings in Dili on April 17 in the course of a campaign to force people to sign petitions calling for maintaining the area within Indonesia. The Indonesian president Habibie has promised that the Timorese will have the right to vote for independence and that he would respect their decision.

The South East Asian solidarity news service ASIET reported on May 3:

“Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) Marzuki Darusman has said the defiance of East Timor’s pro-integration militias against any United Nations (UN) presence in the territory signifies the armed forces’ (TNI’s) determination not to let East Timor achieve independence. ‘If East Timor was let go, it would discredit the whole armed forces completely,’ he said.

“Darusman, who is also a chairman of the ruling Golkar party, however, also said it was virtually impossible to prove that the military was directly supporting and encouraging the violence unleashed by the pro-integration camp in East Timor. But, he said, there is no sense in denying it.”

On May 3, the army made a brutal attack on sympathizers of the Aceh independence movement.

An ASIET dispatch reported May 4: “One of the wounded told the paper that he had been shot in the head even though he was lying on the ground.”

ASIET cited a dispatch from the Aceh-Sumatra National Liberation Front based in Sweden. It said that on Sunday, May 2, troops entered a village in an attempt to arrest a front activist. But the local people protected him.

The troops returned the following day and began rounding up thousands of unarmed villagers. When the people resisted, the troops opened fire at point-blank range, killing 44 and seriously injuring up to 150.

At the same time, in the central industrial areas, the labor movement is continuing to reorganize and go on the offensive. On May 1, some 400 supporters of jailed labor leader Dita Sari, a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PRD), rallied at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta to demand her release.

The PRD is the best known left party in Indonesia. It suffered severe repression at the hands of the New Order government. It has now been recognized as one of the 48 parties contending in the election. But many of its leaders remain in prison.

On May Day, also thousands of workers came from the Jabotek industrial area to the University of Indonesia campus in Salemba, to celebrate the workers’ holiday.

A May 4 dispatch from ASIET quoted a dispatch from Detikcom as saying: “At 3:30 p.m. the commemoration began with the singing of the Workers’ Marching Song, with the left hand raised in a fist. As the agenda was begun, masses of workers could be seen still arriving, most arriving by public transport such as buses….

“After the workers had gathered, the atmosphere was full of color. There was a group which brought a banner with the writing ‘Free Dita Sari and Free [All] Political Prisoners,’ their shouts echoed across Jakarta.”

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