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Students protest military role, loans

Agence France Presse - February 18, 1999

Jakarta – Dozens of students protested at the Indonesian military headquarters and the National Strategic Planning Board Thursday over the military's role in politics and alleged corruption in the use of foreign loans.

Some 50 students from the Jakarta Students' Communication Forum rallied at military headquarters to press demands that the armed forces quit politics before the June elections.

"Revoke the socio-political role and the posting of military in civilian posts for the sake of democracy," said one large poster. "ABRI (the armed forces) should return to the barracks," read another.

More than 50 soldiers and police later pushed the protestors across the street, but there was no violence, witnesses said.

Armed reinforcements arrived at the military headquarters but after 40 minutes of chanting and yelling slogans, the students disbanded without incident.

Student groups have said they fear the June 7 general election cannot be fair as long as the military continues its political role.

Nine students from the Democratic Student Forum picketed the National Strategic Planning Board for half an hour before they were admitted to meet representatives.

The students demanded to know whether foreign loans to pay for social safety net programs had been corruptly diverted.

"Activate the use of Social Safety Net funds for the development of the small people," read a banner held by the students as dozens of anti-riot troops armed with batons looked on.

Hidayat Syarif, who handles the social program, invited the students inside for a dialogue. "We fear the loan has been corrupted because none of the little people in the villages or in urban areas have received any of the billions of dollars in loans. If it's not going to be properly used, then return it," one of the students told Syarif. Syarif said the government had used the loans to help education, health and job programs. He denied any funds had been diverted and challenged the students to prove that any money had gone missing.

The international community has earmarked a sizeable portion of the 46 billion dollars in bailout funds for Indonesia for social safety net programs. But this week press reports alleged that much of the money had not reached the groups for whom it was meant.

The Indonesian Observer Wednesday quoted the strategic planning board director Budiono as saying only 40 percent of safety net funds had reached their intended recipients due to what he called technical hitches.

Budiono said there were "a few dozen cases" of leakage but these were insignificant compared to the thousands benefiting from the loans.