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Strife blamed on dark forces

Reuters - January 26, 1999

Terry Friel, Jakarta – As Indonesia lurches through its worst social and economic turmoil in 30 years, one thing political, military and religious leaders can agree on is that "dark forces" are masterminding the unrest sweeping their nation.

Conspiracy theories abound as Indonesians search for a palatable explanation as to why their country has crumbled from a regional economic and diplomatic powerhouse to a basket case living on foreign handouts.

Many claim to know the identity of the mysterious provocateurs, but no-one is prepared to name them.

"I am very sceptical of most of these provocateur theories," said Gerry Van Klinken, editor of the Australian-based magazine Inside Indonesia and a lecturer at Sydney University's School of Asian Studies. "It can be an easy way to target your enemies. The elite can agree on provocateurs, but they can't see that riots can come out of the society and the problems people face."

Most of the allegations concerning provocateurs centre on the political and military elite fanning ethnic, religious and economic tensions in a risky strategy to further their own ends.

Most recently, allegations surfaced that members of a youth group with loose links to the ruling Golkar Party sparked last week's Christian-Moslem violence in the far-eastern island of Ambon in which more than 50 people died.

It is a charge hotly denied by Yorrys Raweyai, the head of the Pemuda Pancasila and a close friend of former president Suharto. "That is not true," he told Reuters. "Pemuda Pancasila is not active in Ambon. You show me concrete evidence that Pemuda Pancasila was involved in the case."

The Ambon feuding was the latest in a wave of violence that has swept Indonesia over the past year as simmering tensions boil over in the post-Suharto era amid economic hardship and faltering respect for the military and the law.

The military, undermined by infighting and under-resourced, has been largely powerless to stem the violence. Some Indonesians whisper some of the bloodshed was incited by the military, seeking to create enough chaos and terror that the people would demand it take over to restore peace.

Or, by hardline rebel officers seeking to discredit reformist armed forces chief General Wiranto. Others say followers of the reviled Suharto might be seeking to destabilise the country in a desperate power game or to protect themselves as it lurches towards democracy.

Suharto and his family are under investigation over corruption and some say followers may have encouraged the unrest to warn the government not to push too far on the issue.

Clearly, some of the unrest has its roots in the economic pain and social turmoil hitting tens of millions of Indonesians. "People's problems may be economic, but they may express them in terms of religion or ethnicity, trying to find security in these new solidarities," said Sydney University's Van Klinken.

But there is evidence suggesting some provocateurs have been involved in some of the worst incidents.

An investigation by the Human Rights Commission into the May riots said it suspected an army unit led by Suharto's son-in-law, Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, was linked to the violence.

In November, mysterious metal "dum-dum" bullets were found in the bodies of victims killed in clashes with the military in Jakarta. The army said it did not use such bullets.

And during bloody rioting between Moslems and Christians in Jakarta's Chinatown in the same month, some of the rioters appeared to be allied with the soldiers. "There are credible incidents of military provocation," said Van Klinken.

To some, new research for the World Bank suggesting the economic meltdown has pushed fewer people into poverty than previously thought adds credence to the existence of provocateurs.

"It is certainly true that the situation outside Java is not so bad," said H.S. Dillon, an agricultural economist and leader of the Forum for the Fostering of National Unity. I buy the argument that people are using the current situation to foment unrest. This has a much more political underpinning."