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Cendana is now just another street in Menteng

Jakarta Post - May 22, 2012

Jakarta – Fourteen years ago, it was normal to see dozens of soldiers guarding Jl. Cendana in Menteng, Central Jakarta, which was then probably the nation's most famous address.

Only those with special permits could traverse the street, which was home to the private residence of then president Soeharto.

Now, more than a decade after its most famous resident disappeared from the Indonesian political scene, the street has become just another address in Menteng.

Soeharto died on Jan. 27, 2008, almost 10 years after he resigned. He owned three houses on the street – numbers 6, 8 and 10 – which were vacated soon after his death. Today, only a few servants, cooks and security guards remain.

Tejo, 65, one of the security guards in the complex, said that the "Cendana family" – referring to the Soehartos – has plans to turn the houses into a museum. "I don't really know about the details. I think the family members are still discussing it," Tejo said.

It used to be that foreign dignitaries and other very important people visited Soeharto on Jl. Cendana, for business purposes, bilateral negotiations or for friendly visits, even after his resignation.

After Soeharto died, however, such guests have been few and far between, except on Idul Fitri. Soeharto's oldest daughter, Siti Hardijanti "Tutut" Rukmana, usually holds an open house on the Muslim holiday, inviting her father's former associates to visit.

Mandra "Jack" Guna, 52, a security guard in the area, bore witness to how important the street was during the New Order.

When Soeharto was in power, the local community unit (RW) leader told Jack not to allow scavengers to enter the area, he said. "Jack, don't let any scavengers enter Jl. Cendana after 6 a.m.," Jack said, repeating the words of the community leader.

The area was also considered a "sterile" quarter, where no civilians were allowed. Soldiers guarding the house would punish violators by forcing them to perform squat jumps.

Other members of the extended Soeharto family continue to live in the neighborhood, including Soeharto's sons Bambang Triatmodjo and Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra.

Andi, 63, a bakso (meatball) vendor who has set up shop next to Tommy's house since 1970, said that much had changed on the street since Soeharto's death. "It's just another road in Jakarta now. No more military personnel, no more people squat jumping. People can aimlessly travel through this road now," he said.

Also gone are the barbed wired barricades and the soldiers guarding the house, Andi added.

He recalled that several of Soeharto's associates regularly came to visit the president after he resigned, including, former Indonesian Military commander Gen. (ret.) Wiranto; his former vice president, Try Sutrisno; and senior Golkar Party politicians such as Agung Laksono.

Andi also told stories that illustrated exactly how serious the former president was about security along Jl. Cendana. According to Andi, Soeharto once ordered that the Embassy of the Soviet Union be moved because he thought it was too close to his private compound.

The site of the embassy was then transformed into the headquarters of the Presidential Security Forces (Paspampres). The headquarters of Paspampres has since moved. Tommy is said to be building a new home on the site.

However, 14 years after Soeharto's resignation, one thing is clear: People no longer mention Jl. Cendana in hushed tones. The epicenter of power, at least for the next two years, has moved to Cikeas, in Bogor, West Java, where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono resides. (fzm)