Derwin Pereira, Jakarta – Indonesia's intelligence chief has predicted that more violence could hit the country in the run-up to next year's presidential election, warning that the recent riots have yet to reach a climax.
Head of the State Intelligence Co-ordinating Body (Bakin), Lieutenant-General (Ret) Moetajib, was quoted in news reports yesterday as saying that Indonesia was vulnerable to such unrest, given the sprawling archipelago's multi-ethnic character. "We are many ethnic groups living on thousands of islands, with different religions and traditions," he said, adding that this could be exploited by groups bent on unseating the government, as the country braced itself for the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) next March.
The MPR elects a president and vice-president and adopts new state policy guidelines.
Said Lt-Gen Moetajib: "Maybe they won't stop until they achieve their target. Their target is not only to disturb the MPR session, but also to replace the political system."
He said such groups worked by distributing illegal brochures and stoking dissatisfaction with the government among the people, to the point they would resort to violence.
As an example, he cited last December's riots in Tasikmalaya, Central Java, which began with a rumour that a Muslim school boarding teacher had been tortured to death by police.
"All of us are part of a big Indonesian family. So why do we attack each other and burn each other's property?" he asked, noting that most of the riots were instigated. Many Indonesian cities have recently been hit by politically and religiously motivated riots.
In Java, the cities of Situbondo, Tasikmalaya and Rengasdengkok were hit badly over the last year, as were Pontianak and Banjarmasin in Kalimantan.
Post-election political tensions have died down, but rumours of impending riots persist in areas like East Java. The Jakarta Post yesterday quoted the authorities as saying they heard that riots were likely to break out simultaneously in Madura, Jember, Situbondo and Pasuruan on July 7. These are all strongholds of the Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP). These areas have already seen violence this year in the form of clashes between the ruling Golkar party and the PPP.
A senior military intelligence officer told The Straits Times that the Indonesian armed forces (Abri) was anticipating "periodic bouts of violence", particularly in Java – on the same scale and intensity as the ones that took place earlier this year.
"The political temperature will be hottest in Java over the next few years," he noted.
The source said military investigations revealed that a number of "left-wing intellectuals", funded by "external organisations", were penetrating Islamic groups and university campuses to bring about radical change.
He said: "They are operating under the umbrella of Islam to bring about radical change because Islam has the widest reach in Indonesia.
"They are exploiting not just socio-economic differences and ethnicity, but also religion. They want to bring down Suharto at all cost."
The source did not name any groups, but news reports quoted Lt-Gen Moetajib as saying that elements of the now-defunct People's Democratic Party were behind the riots. Security forces detained several members of the party last July for subversive activities and linked them to the banned Indonesian Communist Party.