Tue, 31 Oct 2000

Four grilled over hunting Americans

JAKARTA (JP): Police are questioning four local Muslim leaders over their alleged roles in Sunday's sweep of international hotels in Surakarta, Central Java, for American guests, an officer said on Monday.

The incident involved dozens of men clad in green military- style uniforms, who stormed into a number of hotels demanding American guests leave the country.

"Those men may not have engineered acts of violence, but what they did was a public order violation according to our Criminal Code," National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Saleh Saaf told The Jakarta Post by telephone.

The four men being questioned, Saleh said, were from four separate militant Muslim groups.

The groups were identified as the Sunan Bonang Division of the Hizbullah Corps, the Hizbullah Brigade, the Lasykar Jundullah and an Alert Youth Wing which claims to be part of the 25 million- strong Muhammadiyah Muslim organization.

"Whether the latter is just using the name Muhammadiyah or is really a wing of Muhammadiyah has yet to be determined. Police are still looking into this matter," Saleh said.

Muhammadiyah chairman Ahmad Syafi'i Ma'arif dismissed the possibility that its members were involved in the incident.

"I have yet to receive information about the incident.

"But to my knowledge it's impossible that Muhammadiyah members would commit such acts .... Muhammadiyah is such a moderate Muslim organization ... its members would not do such a strange thing," Syafi'i told The Jakarta Post.

The chairman of the Surakarta chapter of Muhammadiyah, Sukiryono, said that if the suspects proved to be Muhammadiyah members, they were acting on their own accord.

"Muhammadiyah does not have such a policy. If they really are Muhammadiyah members, they acted on their own initiative," Sukiryono told the Post.

The incident was a result of rising anti-American sentiment following the arrest of an American citizen, Aaron War Maness, on Oct. 21 over allegations of espionage.

The Indonesian government has issued a statement saying that Maness was not involved in espionage in Irian Jaya.

While officials of the presidential office were quick to play down the arrest and spying allegations in an attempt to cool tensions, some legislators from the House of Representatives demanded that U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard be declared persona non grata.

The U.S. Embassy, which closed its public services section last week after receiving an unspecified threat, announced on Saturday it would remain closed to the public until at least Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Indonesianist and political scientist Daniel S. Lev from the University of Washington criticized Gelbard for being too harsh and less than diplomatic in his recent dispute with Minister of Defense Mahfud M.D.

"Gelbard is too harsh and overreacted in this case. If he is described as a troubleshooter ... what is he troubleshooting? It needs special expertise to be (a troubleshooter)," Lev told the Post during a break in a seminar on the military held here on Monday.

"And in this case, I think the dispute between the two (Gelbard and Mahfud) is a mistake. Gelbard was once stationed in eastern Europe ... Yugoslavia, and then here in Indonesia. But he is just too harsh. Mahfud, on the other hand, is inexperienced," Lev said.

"So this problem is caused by the incompetence of inexperienced people. This is outrageous as actually there is no fundamental problem to be made a big deal of.

"Mahfud is very quick in judging, as in the case of the alleged American spy in Papua, and Gelbard is also too responsive.

"These things happen if the people involved are not being professional," he remarked.

Both Jakarta and Washington are confused as they certainly do not want ties between the countries to be broken, he said.

"On this account, I think this matter will die down in the next two or three weeks," Lev said.

He suggested an open dialog between representatives of the two countries. "But by closing down (the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta) there will never be a chance for such talks."

"The issue also depends on the question of whether Gelbard can be a good diplomat.

"It is his duty to protect his country's interests, but he shouldn't blindly defend giant companies such as Freeport or Newmont," Lev said.

A political observer from Airlangga University in Surabaya, Daniel Sparringa, said the dispute between the two officials was just a minor incident in bilateral relations between the two countries.

"Let's hope that better communications and understanding will solve the problem," Daniel said on the sidelines of the same seminar. (ylt/edt/swa/imn)