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Untouchable general faces military trial

Sydney Morning Herald - August 4, 1998

Jenny Grant, Jakarta – The once-untouchable Indonesian general and son-in-law of the former president Soeharto, Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, will be called before a military inquiry for his alleged role in a series of kidnappings, the military announced yesterday.

The Defence Minister and armed forces chief, General Wiranto, said General Prabowo and two other senior officers would be tried before the closed-door Military Honour Council. The council's maximum penalty is dishonourable discharge. "They must be held responsible for their attitude and action which obviously violated the officer's code of honour and damaged the image of the armed forces," General Wiranto said.

General Prabowo, the former head of the Kopassus special forces, headed the army's Strategic Reserve Command when more than 20 activists were abducted and tortured before presidential elections in March. Fourteen political activists are still missing after being abducted by groups of unidentified men. At least four of those kidnapped have publicly accused military members of being involved in their abductions.

The two other senior officers to be brought before the seven-member council are Major-General Muchdi Purwopranjono, the former Kopassus commander, and Colonel Chairawan, who headed a Kopassus intelligence unit. General Wiranto said 10 other Kopassus soldiers being detained for the abductions would be brought before a military court open to the public.

The head of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, Mr Munir, rejected the idea of the matter being heard before the Honour Council. "The council symbolises an extra-judicial process," he said. "It is a political decision of the armed forces which is not legally accountable."

General Wiranto and Colonel Prabowo are old rivals. General Wiranto, although close to Mr Soeharto, represented a faction that wanted to see a cleaner, more professional military. Western military sources said General Wiranto decided to drag General Prabowo before the council to boost the military's credibility, preserve his own position and solidify his support.

General Wiranto relieved General Prabowo of his Strategic Reserve post a day after Mr Soeharto resigned on May 21. A Western army attachi said: "Wiranto won the battle then, and with this council he is just twisting the knife and crowning his victory." Other sources said General Wiranto was purging the military of Prabowo supporters.

A foreign military attachi said: "It is not clear whether Prabowo is the anti-Christ who orchestrated everything. There may be a tendency to use the council by senior figures to offload their own sins on him." General Wiranto denied there was a hidden agenda behind the council. "ABRI [the armed forces] wants to transparently and honestly solve several cases connected with the reform era such as the abduction cases, the Trisakti [student killing] cases and the May riots," he said.

The army chief, General Subagyo Hadisiswojo, who was close to General Prabowo in the Soeharto days, will head the Military Honour Council. Indonesian military sources said General Prabowo was being brought before a closed-door council because his evidence could incriminate other senior officers. The former armed forces chief and now Co-ordinating Minister for Politics and Security, General Feisal Tandjung, has denied he had any knowledge of the kidnappings.

[On August 5, the Straits Times reported that the military has leaked the news that Prabowo had been relieved of active duty. The paper said that it was a clear signal that punitive action was seriously being considered should a military-honour council implicate him in the abduction. According to an Antara report on August 4, Wiranto signed the order suspending Prabowo and his successor as Kopassus commander, Lt. General Muchdi, on July 31 - James Balowski.]