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Untouchable bogeymen still roaming free

Jakarta Post - February 8, 1999

They have no identity and are nameless. They are almost invisible, and, above all, certainly untouchable. Yet, they are so powerful as to have left a trail of untold deaths and massive destruction across the country in the space of only a few months.

The authorities would have us believe that they were there before the massive riots in Jakarta in May, and again during the serial killings in and around the East Java town of Banyuwangi in September and October. They were present in some of the recent outbreaks of unrest that erupted in the West Jakarta district of Ketapang, in Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara, and in Ambon, Maluku, as well as in smaller riots elsewhere in the country. And they were supposed to have been present in some of the student protests which turned into riots or clashes with security forces.

They are the bogeymen who instigated the people to riot, loot shops, burn houses and buildings, kill and rape, and make bomb threats. If this was a year ago, they would probably have been called "communists". But to continue blaming the communists today for every thing that goes wrong in this country would make our police force a laughing stock. Instead, the military and police, supposedly working within a new reform paradigm, have come up with a new shorthand for them: provokator, or provocateurs.

Not only has the series of incidents of unrest that has rocked this country in recent months followed a predictable pattern. The police handling of these cases also follows certain familiar and disturbing paths. Essentially, the police never get anything solved. The police and the military claim that they have drawn blank in all these major cases.

Sure, they have made a few arrests and some of those arrested were later convicted in court, but these were the small fry. These arrests and convictions raised more questions than they gave answers.

And the biggest question "Who was, or were, behind these riots and killings?" has gone unanswered. Provokator is more of a diversion than an answer. Police insistence that these were purely criminal rather than politically-motivated cases has only confused us even more since they have not even arrested any of the mysterious provokator.

With the authorities unable to explain these cases satisfactorily, theories abound about who these provokator might be. Indulging in conspiracy theories remains our favorite pastime, even in this supposedly transparent era of reform. Some of the theories seem plausible. One only needs to determine who would profit most from this chaos, who had the motives and the means to carry out such deeds on a massive scale, and one would find the answer, or at least come up with a short list of potential bogeymen.

If the police had the political will, the least they could do was pursue some of the more plausible theories, even if only to disprove them. The way things are at the moment, one is left to wonder whether our law enforcement agencies are run by a bunch of incompetents that cannot solve even a single case, or they simply do not have the political will because they are dealing with truly powerful and untouchable bogeymen, as some of the conspiracy theories suggest.

Whether our law enforcement agencies are incompetent or simply helpless, one can hardly find any comfort in knowing that these cases remain unresolved, while the riots are occurring at a greater frequency, each seemingly more destructive than the previous one. And as the nation gears up for a general election, always a turbulent event in this country, one fears that things will get worse as long as the bogeymen are still roaming free.