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Prabowo suspect in abductions

Sydney Morning Herald - December 23, 1998

Lindsay Murdoch, Jakarta – Indonesia's President, Dr B.J. Habibie, has ordered prosecutors to target Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, the son-in-law of deposed president Soeharto, over the abductions of at least 24 political activists earlier this year.

But the leading Indonesian newspaper Kompas reported yesterday that General Prabowo, who was honorably discharged from the armed forces last week, has been granted permanent residency in Jordan, indicating he will not return to Jakarta to face the allegations.

Dr Habibie's order followed the release of a government report that also found General Prabowo may have played a key role in provoking riots in May that led to the killing of more than 1,000 people, left many areas of Jakarta burnt and looted and forced Mr Soeharto to resign.

The report, prepared by a team led by Mr Marzuki Darusman, the chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights, found the May unrest was linked to a meeting held at the army's strategic command, Kostrad, on May 14. Kostrad was then under General Prabowo's command.

The report has renewed speculation that General Prabowo wanted to provoke civil chaos and unrest and use it as an excuse to widen his own power through a military crackdown.

After the release of the report, which was commissioned amid international outrage over violence against ethnic-Chinese during the May riots, Dr Habibie ordered that 11 members of General Prabowo's Kopassus elite forces be immediately put on trial over the abductions and torture of activists opposed to Mr Soeharto's 32-year rule.

The State Secretary, Mr Akbar Tandjung, said that Dr Habibie, once a close friend of the Soeharto family, wanted the trial of the soldiers to establish General Prabowo's involvement or otherwise in the kidnappings. Nine of the kidnap victims have spoken of torture, one has been found dead and the rest are missing.

Dr Habibie has also ordered the Justice Department to press ahead with investigations into the killing of six students at Jakarta's Trisakti University in May, which sparked widespread riots.

Early this week Dr Habibie distanced himself from attempts to include Mr Soeharto in talks aimed at ending student protests and religious and racial violence across the country.

The fact-finding report, released on Monday night, forced the Government to admit that 52 mostly ethnic Chinese women and teenagers were raped during the May riots. Investigators found also that another 24 women had been violently abused and four sexually harassed.

However Mr Tandjung said there was no evidence the rapes were part of an organised campaign and said the victims were from various ethnic groups. But the investigators found many of the women had been gang-raped. Prosecutors said of the 52 confirmed rapes criminal evidence had been gathered in 15 cases and investigations were under way in the others.

Indonesian foreign affairs officials were trying yesterday to check the report that General Prabowo had obtained residency in Amman.

The Government has decided to postpone plans to form a civilian militia to boost security, The Jakarta Post reported. The plan outraged protesters and human rights activists who argued the deployment of thousands of young men in the streets would only exacerbate unrest.

The proposal was reportedly delayed while the Government prepared to draft a law, rather than just a decree as originally planned, that would allow the formation of the civilian militia.