Mon, 20 Nov 2000

City of terror?

The two latest bomb blasts, which occurred in Jakarta in the past week -- the explosion at noon on Friday at the four-star Omni Batavia Hotel in downtown Jakarta and the blast on Thursday evening at the official residence of Jakarta's Governor Sutiyoso in the prestigious Menteng area -- are making it more of a question of how much the public is justified in putting its trust in the police.

Thursday's explosion, believed to have been caused by a hand grenade similar to that used in the bombing of the Malaysian embassy a few months earlier, fortunately caused only minor damage, besides slight injuries to a staff member of the governor's household. In the second incident, in which a more powerful blast caused damage to a small section on the fifth floor of the 398-room hotel on Jl. Kali Besar Raya, police suspect firecrackers to have caused the explosion.

If it were merely the inability to prevent two explosions from occurring in the city in the span of only 16 hours, one might in present the conditions be inclined to forgive the security authorities for not being more able to protect the public against such acts of terror. After all, the police were for more than three decades made to function more as an auxiliary military force designed to repress the people rather than as a professional force to protect the civilian population against crime. Obviously, time is needed to bring about a reorientation.

However, last week's blasts were only the latest in a string of incidents -- including bombings and other acts of terrorism and violence -- that have plagued the current administration ever since its inception in October last year. Months after the incident, there is not a single sign to indicate that the case of the bombing at the Philippine embassy, for example, is anywhere closer to being resolved.

The grenade blast at the Malaysian embassy that followed not long afterward fortunately took no victims. Otherwise, Indonesia's reputation abroad could be even more severely damaged.

Much has been made of the arrests of people said to have been involved in the bombing of the Jakarta Stock Exchange (JSX) some time ago. However, except for talk about some suspects being questioned, this case too seems nowhere near being resolved. And until the authorities come up with some hard evidence to support their claim, word that the JSX bombing is somehow linked to the insurgency in Aceh only draws cynicism from the public.

There is no use exasperating the public any further by reminding people that none of the cases of violence, the kidnappings of political activists and the fatal shooting of student protesters, that have occurred since the downfall of president Soeharto's New Order regime have been satisfactorily resolved.

True, trials have been held and a few field officers sentenced. Nobody in his right mind, however, can be expected to believe that those lowly officers acted on their own, without anyone higher up giving the orders.

In cases of public terror such as these, the standard rule used to be to point a finger at Soeharto or his cronies, or at his family, especially the now fugitive Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra. But that now seems beside the point. The best thing Indonesians can hope for at this point is that all those bungled cases, plus the specter of terror that continues to hang over the country, can bring the authorities to realize the importance of turning the police into a truly professional force capable of providing maximum protection for the people.