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Government orders report on clashes

Kompas - March 20, 1998

Jakarta - Minister for Education and Culture Wiranto Arismunandar has commissioned a special report on the clashes between students and security forces which occurred at the University of Solo (UNS) on 17 March 1998. He has given specific instructions that the report should provide a detailed chronology of the events which eventually led to 29 students being injured.

According to the Head of UNS, Prof. Harris Mudjiman, "the minister is praying for the prompt recovery of the students injured in the clashes." Arismunandar has also asked campus authorities to restrain the activities of students. "In principle, the university's staff does not prevent students from engaging in demonstrations or from staging free speech forums as long as these activities respect the constitution and are held inside the campus," he said.

A stand-off between students and security forces at Lampung University escalated into a bloody clash where four guards were injured and some 60 students - some injured - were taken into custody by the authorities.

"Gentlemen, we are keeping these four guards as our hostages. That is, they are not going to leave this campus until you set our schoolmates free! You better take our word for it," said a student spokesman. At sunset the guards were finally set free and approximately one hour later the security forces released the students.

The demonstrations at Lampung University began at 10:30 in the morning and were staged by thousands of students from Lampung schools and universities. The protesters asked for genuine political and economic reforms as well as a drop in the price of basic foodstuffs.

Although the protests began on campus, they soon spilled into the surrounding streets and students were confronted by hundreds of security officers. Prior to dispatching his troops into the area, Col. Simbolon had appealed for them to remain calm should there be acts of provocation. However, around 12 noon the students began pelting the soldiers with stones, prompting violent reprisals.

The head of Lampung police, Col. Gendro Budi Santoso, told reporters that he is planning to take more stringent actions if the demonstrations continue. "I have already warned them that if they wish to protest about academic matters they are welcome to do so. However, if they start to behave disorderly by breaking property and setting it on fire then we will clamp it down." "We will not stand for anarchy, and they will be stopped," said Santoso.

Meanwhile, universities across the country joined in the protests and declared their solidarity for Lampung University. Demonstrations were staged at Padang's Andalas University, in Medan at the National Islamic Institute of North Sumatra and the Islamic University of North Sumatra, in Semarang at the Soegijapranata Catholic University and the Sultan Agung Islamic University and in Surabaya at the Airlangga University.

Small clash

In Denpasar, the provincial capital of Bali, hundreds of students at Udayana University who attended a general meeting clashed with police as they sought to march outside their campus. Six students and three security guards suffered light injuries. This demonstration by Balinese students called for economic and political reforms as well as complaining about the violent reprisals by security forces against students at Jakarta's National University (Unas), UMS in Solo, and ITS and IKIP in Surabaya. On several occasions, students sought to defy the authorities ban on demonstrations being held outside campuses, but have hitherto failed because they were overwhelmed by large numbers of security forces.

Dialogue with students

In Jakarta, 48 students from IKIP visited parliament to submit a written complaint. They were received by the ruling party Golkar's representatives and by members of the small Partai Demokratik Indonesia (PDI). The students called on parliament to increase its awareness of the public's needs and to adopt a more critical stance towards the government's policies.

The commander of Jakarta's Regional Command, Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin, warned students not to break the law and to remain vigilant about potential infiltrators among student ranks. In Unjungpandang, the commander of the South Sulawesi Regional Command, Major-General Agum Gumelar said that the armed forces are ready to initiate dialogue with the students. "Until now there hasn't been a breakdown in dialogue between ABRI and the students. In our day and age the best way to resolve potential disputes and to avoid making wrong assumptions about the other parties is to keep talking with each other," said Gumelar.