Indonesian military attacks leftist party

In the early hours of March 13, the National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas) regional office in Palu, Central Sulawesi, was attacked by around 30 men. Three Papernas members were hospitalised.

This is the latest in a series of attacks against Papernas. Yet this time, instead of using right-wing thugs as proxies, the attack directly involved members of the Indonesian military (TNI).

At around 11.15pm on March 12, Papernas activist Wira received an ominous phone call asking him to go to the nearby Palu Muhammadiyah University. When he refused, the caller said to expect a visit at the party's office. An hour later, several motorbikes arrived. The men were "heavily built, had close-cropped hair and military-style boots", an eyewitness told the Kompas daily newspaper. Shortly after, they stormed the office, seriously injuring Wira, Ikhsan and Eko Haryanto.

The TNI's involvement was later confirmed with the arrest of Private Makmur from the Palu 132/Tadulako sub-district military command. Makmur's immediate superior, Colonel Husein Malik, admitted to Kompas that Makmur was involved but denied the attack was premeditated or organised by the TNI. Yet according to a Tempo Interactive report, residents said the attackers had been buying cigarettes and phone vouchers from local stalls as they kept the office under surveillance.

In an open letter to the president, legislators and foreign embassies, Papernas said that the incident strengthens earlier suspicions of the TNI's involvement in the attacks and that powerful elements within the TNI are seeking to return it to the repressive socio-political role that it enjoyed under the New Order dictatorship of former President Suharto. The statement said the TNI was engaging in "terror, intimidation and violence against the people themselves" and that "the TNI is now caught up in a plot to sow disunity among the people and the nation".

Following an attempt by the Indonesian Anti-Communist Front (FAKI) to break up Papernas's founding congress in Central Java in January, a police informant revealed that the regional military commander had pressured police not to protect the congress and to make it difficult for Papernas to obtain a permit. Several TNI personnel were seen at a recent anti-Papernas demonstration in the East Java city of Madiun.

Dominggus Oktavianus, the head of Papernas's political affairs department, told Green Left Weekly that the TNI's involvement in the May 13 attack may have been due to Papernas's strong base of support in Palu and the TNI's inability to find local proxies to do its dirty work.

Some clearly see Papernas as a threat. According to Oktavianus, Papernas's program of the "Three banners of national unity" — repudiation of the foreign debt, nationalisation of the mining industry and building national industry for the welfare of the people — is finding a strong resonance among ordinary people, who no longer believe that the government can address growing poverty and unemployment and are worried about foreign domination of the economy.

The government and foreign capital are particularly concerned about calls to nationalise the mining industry, which given recent developments on this front in Latin America is starting to be picked up by other sections of the democratic moment. "There is concern that this might snow-ball and has to be stopped before it gets taken up as a wider demand", Oktavianus said. "The new political parties, such as former General Wiranto's People's Conscience Party and the Democratic Party of Reform, also feel threatened because we are getting a hearing among ordinary people, even without the money and resources that these parties have."

Papernas is calling on the government and police to investigate the previous attacks and to make a clear statement affirming Papernas's right to assembly and free expression.

Statements condemning the attack have been issued by the National Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation, the Indonesian Legal Aid Association, the Indonesian Center for Democracy and Human Rights, the Yogyakarta Muhammadiyah Students Association, the Working People's Association, former President Abdurrahman Wahid and Muslim cleric and rights activist Solahuddin Wahid.