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Suharto followers blamed for unrest

Reuters - January 7, 1999

Jakarta – The leader of Indonesia's largest Moslem organisation on Thursday accused followers of former President Suharto of instigating a wave of ethnic and religious violence that has shaken the country in recent months.

Abdurrahman Wahid, head of the moderate Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) organisation which claims 30 million followers and considered a possible presidential candidate, said the hand of Suharto followers could be seen in Moslem-Christian clashes that broke out in November.

In November, 13 people were killed when a Moslem mob set upon Christians in the Ketapang area of Jakarta and torched several churches and a gambling hall. A week later youths set mosques ablaze in the eastern Indonesian town of Kupang, setting off a spate of tit-for-tat arson attacks on mosques and churches.

Human rights groups have said there is evidence both incidents were organised, rather than spontaneous eruptions of anger. "The Ketapang and Kupang incidents show that most of Suharto's supporters cannot accept the changes in the country," Wahid told a news conference after holding a meeting with fellow Moslem leader and opposition figurehead Amien Rais.

Suharto was forced from power in May amid a crippling economic crisis, mass student-led protests against his 32 year rule and an explosion of rioting in Jakarta that claimed almost 1,200 lives. He faces an official investigation into allegations he amassed billions of dollars through corruption during his rule.

Rais has previously said a wave of mysterious ninja-style killings last year which claimed more than 180 lives in Java may also have been instigated by Suharto followers to destabilise the nation.

At the news conference, Wahid defended his decision that Suharto be included in a "national dialogue" with leading political and religious figures aimed at fostering reconciliation and an end to spiralling violence in Indonesia. "Suharto needs to be included in a national dialogue and he must sign a statement saying there wouldn't be any more violence," Wahid said.

Rais, former leader of the Muhammadiyah Moslem movement that claims 28 million followers and now head of the National Mandate Party (PAN), is seen as one of Wahid's main rivals in parliamentary elections scheduled for June.

But the two men denied that they were enemies. "In democracy I am allowed to have differences with Rais and he with me," Wahid said. Rais said their meeting had brought the two men closer. "Differences between us are getting thinner, we have different ways to examine the situation but the bottom line is (our differences) are nothing worrying," he said.