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Beware of divisive rumours, Suharto tells Indonesians

Straits Times - April 13, 1997

Jakarta – Indonesian President Suharto yesterday warned the country to guard against rumours which could spark unrest following a wave of mass violence ahead of general election here.

His warning came after reports that more than a dozen pro-Golkar Muslim preachers were in hiding after riots in Central Java.

Mr Suharto, speaking at a Hindu celebration in Lampung, southern Sumatra, called on the Indonesian "people and religious communities to control themselves when hearing rumours which could divide the unity of our nation".

The rumours, he said, had been "spread on purpose to incite suspicion amongst us", Antara news agency said.

Supporters of the Muslim-led United Development Party (PPP) and the ruling Golkar party have clashed in at least five towns in densely populated Central Java province over the last three weeks, leaving a trail of injured people and destruction.

Indonesia's army chief warned that the political party whose supporters rioted in Wonosobo, Central Java, must take res-ponsibility for its members' actions, it was reported yesterday. Supporters of the Wonosobo branch of the PPP last Wednesday clashed with police when officers tried to block a PPP convoy from entering the neighbouring town of Banjarnegara. Police arrested 10 people following the unrest, which left at least 12 people injured.

PPP Secretary-General Tosari Wijaya on Friday accused outside elements of making use of his party to spark unrest in the volatile area, the Kompas daily said. The country's three official political parties – Golkar, PPP and the Indonesian Democracy Party – are vying for 425 parliamentary seats in the May 29 general election.

Central Java police last week questioned a popular ulema – or Muslim religious leader – Afifudin Musytari, who has been accused of inciting unrest in the province's town of Pekalongan.

Central Java's chief police detective, Colonel Ansyaad Mbai, said Musytari may be arrested on charges of inciting unrest and "insulting a certain segment of the society". Hundreds of people in Pekalongan tried last Thursday to attack a civil servants' housing complex but were quickly dispersed by the authorities.

Pekalongan was hit by two earlier disturbances. PPP supporters burned the open air stage set up for a Golkar concert on March 24 and went on to attack stores and shops for the following two days.

Golkar has been criticised widely for using government facilities and officials to gain support in general polls.

Central Java Golkar chief Alip Pandojo said that over a dozen pro-Golkar ulemas have taken refuge at government officials' homes after being threatened by members of an opposing party.

Pandojo, as quoted by the Jakarta Post daily, declined to say which party's supporters were responsible that it is commonly understood that PPP members were involved.

Police have banned mass gatherings in four towns in Indonesia's Central Java province, according to Antara news agency yesterday. It quoted a senior police officer as saying that no gatherings would be allowed in the four towns ahead of the start of the campaign for May 29 general polls. – AFP, Reuter.