Thu, 25 May 2000

Soeharto neighbors sick and tired of student rallies

JAKARTA (JP): Residents living near the private residence of former president Soeharto and his family in Menteng, Central Jakarta, are appealing to students to halt their protests in the upmarket neighborhood.

Interviewed by The Jakarta Post separately, the neighbors urged the students to hold their protests at other sites, such as the Attorney General's Office or the House of Representatives.

The residents, particularly those from Jl. Teuku Umar and Jl. Suwiryo close to the Soeharto compound on Jl. Cendana, said they did not object to the student protests as such, but to the disruption of their daily lives and damage to private and public property.

Protesters, mostly university students and members of different student organizations, have stepped up their demonstrations in Menteng in recent weeks.

Most of the protesters demand the Soehartos and their associates be brought to court immediately for alleged corruption. They also accuse Soeharto of human rights violations during his 32-year rule.

The residents said they lived in a constant state of unease.

Mrs. Muchtony, in her 40s from Jl. Teuku Umar, said she prepared to move her four-year-old child and 80-year-old father-in-law to a relative's house whenever the street began to fill with protesting students and troops.

"I mean this is a residential area. If they want to hold a demonstration, why don't they choose other more appropriate places, such as the Attorney General's Office or the House?" the housewife said.

"Besides, the protests have not succeeded because the students have never even been able to see the fence of Soeharto's house due to the tight security blockade, let alone hoping that he, his children or his lawyer would be willing to come out of the house (to meet the protesters)."

Her husband's parents have owned the house, located about 200 meters from the Soeharto residence, since the 1940s. Mrs. Muchtony runs a small cafe, Palm Terrace Cafe, on its grounds.

She said the most exasperating time for the residents was when the protesters used stones and Molotov cocktails in an effort to break through the cordon of security personnel.

"One of the tents in my cafe was burned recently, and many times the protesters took the paving stones in front of my house, which unfortunately has a low fence," Mrs. Muchtony said.

Her small cafe was once a favorite hangout for the children and grandchildren of Soeharto.

Her next-door neighbor, Christine, also hoped students would find another location to hold their protests.

"The students today have no clear vision for their protests anymore," said the member of non-governmental organization the National Solidarity Foundation. "They should have staged their protests at the Attorney General's Office or at the House, tell them (the officials and the legislators) to properly carry out their jobs, negotiate with them ..."

"So, don't hold the rallies here. It's useless."

Leo, a security guard at a house on Jl. Suwiryo, which has been used by the police for months as the site to blockade the students, said his employers also were disturbed by the students' actions.

"It is especially true when stones, Molotov cocktails or tear gas canisters are thrown inside the house," he said.

Mrs. Muchtony said most of the residents were now expert at detecting when a rally would occur.

She said a sure sign was the sudden arrival of many street vendors.

Mrs. Muchtony said she and her neighbors also dealt with students, police officers and reporters knocking on their doors, asking permission to use the bathroom and perform their prayers in the house.

"If I don't allow them, I feel bad. But if I let them in, many others will follow. What if they do something bad inside the house? So, I just don't give them permission."

Christine said she allowed reporters in, especially women.

"I always feel sorry for the women reporters -- what if they got hurt? I once saw one of them injured by a stone."

The women were apathetic about Attorney General Marzuki Darusman's plan to move Soeharto to an unidentified "secure" location.

"If he's moved or not, that's not my business. I just don't want to be disturbed by another rally," said Mrs. Muchtony. (09)