Sat, 15 May 2004

PDI-P demands probe into May riots

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta

After years of silence, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) demanded on Friday a thorough investigation into the May 1998 tragedy.

Panda Nababan, secretary of the PDI-P faction at the House of Representatives, told The Jakarta Post here his faction was lobbying other parties in the House to include the issue in the next plenary session.

"The House must clarify what the conclusions were of its 2001 investigation into the shooting of the (four) Trisakti (University) students on May 12, 1998 and the riots on the following days," he said.

Panda chaired a special committee assigned to probe the incidents, which concluded that no gross human rights violations had occurred in the tragedy. This conclusion has so far thwarted any efforts to set up a rights tribunal for alleged perpetrators of the crimes.

The committee's verdict goes against the results of an investigation by a joint fact-finding team (TGPF) headed by the National Commission on Human Rights, which declared serious crimes against humanity took place in the tragedy.

But Panda insisted his special committee had conducted a preliminary inquiry only, which should not prevent either the rights body or the Attorney General's Office from carrying out their own investigation.

"The PDI-P has officially called for our party leader, President Megawati Soekarnoputri to ask the Attorney General's Office to follow up the TGPF investigation," he said.

He conceded the PDI-P would face many difficulties and political resistance from certain parties in pursuing the case, particularly from the Golkar Party, whose presidential candidate Gen. (ret) Wiranto has been linked to the tragedy.

The rights body's investigation team was unable to summon some 20 military and police officers, including Wiranto and former Jakarta military commander Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, for questioning in connection with the incidents after they refused to aid the investigation.

More than 1,000 people were killed and over 60 women, mostly Chinese Indonesians, were raped when hundreds of malls, shopping centers and public offices in Jakarta were burned down during the riots, which spread to other major cities in Java and Sumatra.

Firman Djaya Daely, another PDI-P legislator, said his party expected international pressure to mount on the government to investigate those held accountable for the tragedy.

He acknowledged his faction was concerned about the possible revival of the New Order, which could bury all human rights and corruption cases allegedly involving past government and military officials.

PDI-P was eclipsed by Golkar in this year's legislative election and could suffer a double loss if Wiranto wins the first direct presidential election on July 5.

However, Indra J. Piliang, a political analyst of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said human rights issues, including the 1999 East Timor mayhem, would not pose a serious threat to Wiranto's presidential bid because the issues were popular only in urban areas, while the majority of his supporters lived in rural areas.

"Human rights issues will not affect Wiranto's reputation ahead of the presidential election, which has seen mounting demands for succession in national leadership," he said. "Only students reject presidential candidates with a military backgrounds."