Mon, 08 Mar 1999

Soeharto's trial 'may boost trust in govt'

JAKARTA (JP): Taking former president Soeharto to court is vital to restoring public trust in the government, students said on Sunday.

Continuing the investigation into Soeharto will not automatically restore faith, but it would at least be a good start, the organizing chairman of a three-day student dialog said.

"It cannot be denied that people really believe the present government is a continuation of that under Soeharto," the chairman, Guntur S. Prisanto, told The Jakarta Post, adding that this was why restoring public trust was vital.

"Many problems have occurred, which can be blamed on lack of political communication between the government and citizens," he said.

The dialog was aimed at learning the aspirations of students, especially those living in the regions. Guntur said the subject of Soeharto being tried by a court of law came up as a main point to attain supremacy of the law.

The talk, held at Hotel Pondok Sawangan in Sawangan, south of here, involved some 100 students from 51 universities and colleges, including military students, and 33 student groups in 18 provinces, organizers said.

Guntur said there were six main issues agreed upon at the dialog, including the one on supremacy of the law.

"Frankly, issues brought up by students in Jakarta do not always reflect concerns of students in the regions," Guntur said.

More issues under the legal sphere were demands to eradicate corruption, collusion and nepotism at all levels; an end to discrimination under the law; and a return of community-owned lands "which were forcibly brought under the control of the government, the private sector or other related parties".

As to sociopolitical issues, students voiced support for community demands for separation from Indonesia "if regional autonomy is not carried out", he said.

For instance, students from Irian Jaya, he said, had remarked on how human rights were widely abused under the Indonesian government compared to under the Dutch.

West Irian became part of Indonesia in 1962, and the military has attempted to crush signs of separatism ever since.

Another point was that students rejected "differences of ethnicity, religion, race and societal groups being used as a political commodity".

"We noted a shift in political conflict to religious conflict," Guntur said.

While Muslim student groups have called for a holy war against atrocities committed against fellow Muslims in Ambon, Maluku province, Guntur said this did not mean students were divided.

On defense and security issues, the students said the military should withdraw from all positions in government, the economy and the legislative bodies.

Minister of Defense and Security/Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Gen. Wiranto has announced that all active military members in civilian positions must choose between being pensioned off from the military if they want to retain their jobs or return to the barracks. Some governors have chosen to retire from ABRI.

Guntur said students would continue to demand more professionalism from the Armed Forces and "request a guarantee that there will be no more military operations anywhere".

For instance, the westernmost province of Aceh was designated as a "military operation area" from 1989 to 1998, yet despite the withdrawal of the military last year, continued violence in the province has led to suggestions that the military reopen a local command there, which the students rejected.

Rights abuses in various areas were highlighted in the talk, said Guntur, who studies at the University of Indonesia's School of Economics.

In the economic sphere, he said students conveyed the need for autonomy in the use of natural and human resources, a balanced revenue between the central and provincial governments, and that the government apply a "people-oriented" economy.

In education, students agreed on the need for political empowerment among the public and an increase in the state budget's allotment for education. (anr)