Wed, 24 Jul 1996

PDI free speech forum goes ahead despite threat

JAKARTA (JP): Supporters of the overthrown leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) yesterday went ahead with their ongoing free speech forum in defiance of the military's threat to soon ban it.

"We'll continue with our daily free speeches," Agung Imam Sumanto, chief of the PDI security unit, told The Jakarta Post yesterday.

PDI legislator Sabam Sirait and government critic S.K. Trimurti yesterday went on the stage erected at the party's headquarters on Jl. Diponegoro, Central Jakarta.

The legitimacy of the forum was debated by supporters of ousted PDI leader Megawati Soekarnoputri who have gathered at the headquarters for the past month to speak or hear speeches, usually critical of the military and the government.

They waited for hours yesterday before party executives of Megawati's camp eventually decided to allow speeches to recommence.

Agung said he received a telephone call from the chief of the Central Jakarta District Police Lt. Col. Abubakar Nataprawira yesterday morning, asking that Megawati's faction quit the forum.

Abubakar, however, denied making such request. "I have not received an order from my superiors to stop the free speech forum. However, the order may be issued soon," he told Post.

Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Gen. Feisal Tanjung said on Monday that the military would soon ban the free speech forum as public order had been disrupted and the gatherings had become "unconstitutional".

The government and Armed Forces' interference in the internal affairs of PDI was criticized by the National Commission on Human Rights yesterday.

Speaking to visiting U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, a delegation of 11 commission members led by deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman said "the government and ABRI have gone too far".

Marzuki told the press after the meeting, arranged upon request by the U.S. official, that they and Christopher had discussed Indonesia's human rights record and a number of related issues including press freedom, environmental, land and labor disputes.

During the meeting, the commission told Christopher that it had suggested that the opposing camps in PDI should sit together and negotiate to end the protracted conflict between Megawati and her rival Soerjadi.

Quoting Christopher, Marzuki said that the result of the meeting would be reported to U.S. President Bill Clinton. Christopher had also reportedly offered to help settle the political dispute.

"Warren Christopher told us that he was very concerned with the PDI conflict," commission member Charles Himawan said.

Chairman of the government-backed PDI central board Soerjadi issued a decree on Saturday, establishing a new board of executives of the West Java chapter of PDI.

The new board chairman is Idi Siswaya. He replaced Mochtar Budiana, a Megawati loyalist, who was dismissed by Soerjadi because he refused to accept the government-backed rebel congress in Medan which elected Soerjadi.

Idi said the new board was part of the party's effort to find solutions for a number of PDI chapters currently beset by their own leadership crisis. The other "problem chapters" are East Java, Bali and West Nusa Tenggara.

Separately, a Megawati's loyalist, Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno, said in Semarang yesterday that a number of PDI chapters who participated in the congress in Medan had retracted their support for Soerjadi. Instead, they now pledged allegiance to Megawati.

The chapters were East Timor, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, Riau, Lampung and Central Java. (imn/har/bsr/16/17)