Mon, 15 May 2000

Police shift blame for Glodok raid

JAKARTA (JP): Top police officers blamed each other on Sunday for the botched raid on sellers of illegal Video Compact Discs (VCDs) in Glodok on Saturday which triggered widespread rioting in the West Jakarta commercial district.

"The National Police Headquarters did not inform the city police about the planned VCD raid. Our operational and control forces were taken by surprise, when they heard about the raid," Jakarta Police chief Maj. Gen. Nurfaizi said after a coordination meeting with the capital's five precinct chiefs at city police headquarters.

Unrest broke out in the district on Saturday morning after police personnel raided street vendors selling VCDs. The raid coincided with the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of four Trisakti University students which caused mass unrest in Jakarta and other major cities.

At least four shops in the Harco Glodok electronic goods shopping center, several other stores and two car showrooms on nearby Jl. Gadjah Mada and Jl. Hayam Wuruk were vandalized on Saturday. Three police personnel were injured and 11 people were arrested on suspicion of instigating the riot.

The unrest brought back painful memories of the looting and arson in Jakarta in May 1998. Glodok, with mostly Chinese- Indonesian enterprises, was hardest hit during the rioting.

The two-star general contended that even the West Jakarta Police were unaware of the raid.

"The city police, which also includes the West Jakarta Police, had no idea that the raid was going to be conducted," he said.

Officers at the National Police Headquarters strongly denied Nurfaizi's statement, saying details of the raid were relayed to city police headquarters.

"We contacted city police headquarters before we conducted the raid, because they (city police) oversee the area," National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dadang Garnida told The Jakarta Post.

Col. Saleh Saaf of the National Police's information department said the National Police officially informed the city police one week before the raid.

"Usually, we notify the provincial police headquarters two or three days before the raid. Since it was a major raid, we notified them one week ahead of time."

Dadang said the National Police Headquarters would continue to conduct periodic raids.

"The police will take stern measures against parties producing or selling pirated VCDs. The riot was only a spillover from the raid, in which the unrest was fomented by some irresponsible people," he said.

Interviewed separately by the Post, social observer Sardjono Jatiman and criminologist Adrianus Meliala said the rioting reflected the deteriorating image of the police among the public, including in discriminatory enforcement of the law.

"The street vendors dared to resist the police since they believed the police only targeted them and excluded the producers and key distributors," Sardjono said.

Adrianus said the police were unable to convey to the people they were enforcing the law because they conducted operations targeting particular groups in the past.

"The police have their own interests, either political or economic, in their efforts to enforce the law. For example, they will carry out raids if the distributors or producers don't pay sufficient bribes to them."

Sardjono said the police should strive to improve their tarnished image by demonstrating that upholding the law was the basis of all their actions.

"The police must soon arrest the producers and the distributors, and bring them to court. Then, the people will trust them, and will heed their orders," he said.

Glodok remained quiet on Sunday as many store owners, fearing a repeat of the unrest, kept their businesses shut.

However, street vendors in the area began to open their stalls, but none of them sold VCDs. Most offered television antennas and bags.

Curious visitors thronged into the business district to inspect the remnants of the destruction, causing traffic congestion along Jl. Hayam Wuruk.

In anticipation of more unrest, hundreds of police personnel were deployed to the area. Police lines ringed the area, which still bears the scars of the May 1998 riots.

Activities resumed in popular Gadjah Mada Plaza shopping mall, including at McDonald's, which was among the buildings vandalized on Saturday.

The unrest frightened some foreign tourists who opted to leave the capital earlier than planned. Some left for Denpasar, Bali, when they heard of the rioting.

"Why should I stay in Indonesia if riots continue to disturb our vacation?" a woman identified as Cathy McCouhen, 24, was quoted by Antara as saying.

However, it was not a repeat of the mass exodus which followed the rioting two years ago.

"We found no increase in the number of passengers to the airport," said a taxi driver at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Agus Satibi.

Most Jakarta residents appeared to take the rioting in their stride and continued to visit other parts of the city.

The raid did not prevent vendors of pirated VCDs from running their business in neighboring Tangerang.

They offered the pirated VCDs along Jl. Malabar, Anyar market, and Diamond and Robinson shopping centers.

In a separate development, hundreds of relatives of the victims of the burning of Yogya Plaza in Klender, East Jakarta, commemorated the May 1998 tragedy on Sunday with a film show and public discussion. (41/edt/ylt/asa)