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President reveals move by Prabowo in May

Indonesia Observer - February 16, 1999

Jakarta – President BJ Habibie yesterday revealed, for the first time, military movements launched by Lieut.-Gen. [ret] Prabowo Subianto on May 22 last year following the downfall of former President Soeharto, Prabowo's father-in-law.

In an impromptu speech delivered before participants of the 2nd Asian-German Editors Forum at the Merdeka Palace, the president said he received a report on the troop concentration from Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander/Defense Minister General Wiranto.

"He [Wiranto] said, troops under the command of – I don't need to conceal his name now – General Prabowo, were concentrated in a number of places, including in the proximity of my house [in Kuningan, South Jakarta].

"Since I was also concurrently the highest commander of the Armed Forces, General Wiranto sought my advice on what to do. I said he [Prabowo] should withdraw the troops," the president said.

He added that he later on asked Wiranto whether his decision was right. "It is correct, Mr President," the president quoted Wiranto as saying.

The president said that the conversation took place a few hours before he announced the composition of the Development Reform cabinet. He said he was determined that Wiranto should stay in his post as the Minister of Defense. The President acknowledged that he eventually met with Prabowo but did not disclose the substance of their talks.

Soeharto was forced down on May 21, 1998, amid the country's worst political and economic crisis in decades. On the same day, Dr Habibie took office. Riot-torn Jakarta was then overwhelmed by rumors of coup attempt by the once all-powerful military. News of a major split in the military prompted by "rivalry" between Prabowo and Wiranto also helped in the deterioration of the political situation.

Prabowo, then head of the Army Strategic Reserves Command, was one of the most powerful men in uniform and led the unit dubbed an "Army within the Army" and also had loyalists in the Special Forces Kopassus which he had headed previously.

"I took the oath of office at 9:05am Some time past midnight, at exactly 1:32am, I held a briefing with all cabinet members, except the minister of defense. "In the morning, just before going to the palace, he [Wiranto] said he received a report on the concentration of troops under Prabowo."

The president then ordered Wiranto to sack Prabowo from his post and transferred him to a non-combat position in the Army Command School in Bandung, West Java. It was only one day after the long-ruling Soeharto stepped down. Maj.-Gen. Johnny Lumintang then took charge of the post for 17 hours, before he was succeeded by Maj.- Gen. Djamari Chaniago.

The ever-savvy Prabowo was dismissed from his military duty months afterwards on account of his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of political activists during his tenure as head of Kopassus.

A son of economic guru Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, the polyglot Prabowo has been reportedly living in Amman, Jordan, to represent the business interests of his brother Hashim.

[On February 19, Agence France Presse reported that in a written statement, Prabowo said that he had deployed troops around Habibie's home to protect, not threaten him. "It is clear that the deployment of troops was in fact to secure and ensure the security of the president and vice president, who later became president", the statement said - James Balowski.]