Thu, 04 Mar 1999

Regends, mayors forewarned of possible riots

JAKARTA (JP): Minister of Home Affairs Syarwan Hamid urged regional leaders on Wednesday to be more vigilant in the wake of riots and probable political tensions leading to the general election.

Speaking at the opening of a national meeting of regents and mayors, Syarwan told his audience that the continuing religious conflict in Ambon and other acts of violence provided an invaluable lesson.

The regional leaders are meeting in connection with the country's preparations for the polls, scheduled for June 7. The sprawling archipelago has 243 regencies and 59 mayoralties.

"We are concerned about what happened in East Java (in Banyuwangi), Ketapang, Kupang and now Ambon. We can assume these incidents are related," Syarwan said.

Hundreds of people have been killed in a series of conflicts which started with a murder spree of traditional Muslim leaders in Banyuwangi last July. Authorities have arrested a number of suspects but are yet to disclose the names of those who engineered the killings.

Syarwan said that mass brawl in several towns recently, were proof of the nation's absence of unity and vulnerability to rumors.

Syarwan said he believed certain groups had instigated, organized and funded individuals to provoke clashes.

"Simultaneous measures are needed to settle the conflicts, ranging from overtures to religious leaders to strategic measures to detect the masterminds, their organizations and donors," Syarwan said.

The government actually had the option to apply martial law to prevent conflicts from escalating and threatening the republic's stability, he said.

"Such a measure is legitimate according to the 1945 Constitution and the 1959 State of Emergency Law."

He said the government did not intend to call a state of emergency, but instead was asking regional leaders to remain in close contact with Jakarta and be on alert for tensions in their respective jurisdiction.

In the late 1950s, Indonesia's first president Sukarno declared martial law in the wake of regional resistances.

Such measures have not been used since, although former president Soeharto requested extra power in anticipation of national disintegration last year.

Syarwan also called on the regents and mayors to make the government's social safety net program a success.

"The program is quite different from government-sponsored poverty alleviation programs in the past, mostly because it is the people themselves who play the key role," Syarwan said.

Despite the regional trend to blame failures on the central government, Syarwan told the mayors and regents to understand and encourage the peoples aspirations. (rms/amd)